May 18, 2023

Is Buzzfeed Using AI To Develop Black, Asian, Latine Content In “Authentic Voice”?

Buzzfeed Inc (owners of Complex, HuffPost, Tasty, etc) told investors about its plans for AI-generated content. The company also outlined its plans for developing its Black, Asian, Latine identity-based brands to help corporate brands tap an “authentic voice.”

BuzzFeed, founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti and John Seward Johnson III as an internet popularity contest, has been at the forefront of Internet culture for over a decade. This year, the platform launched its AI-powered content such as games and quizzes, with some success. But it plans to go further.

During an investors event held on May 11, Jonah Peretti, the co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of BuzzFeed, shared the company’s plans to utilize AI technology to develop content that resonates with diverse audiences.

“We see creators, AI and moments as intersectional.”

Peretti highlighted BuzzFeed’s existing brands such as Cocoa Butter, Pero Like, and A*Pop, which specifically cater to Black, Latine, and Asian identities, respectively. These brands have successfully attracted millions of dedicated followers who engage deeply with their audience-driven content.

Andrew Guendjoian, SVP, Client Partnerships, detailed how the company it had used these identity brand to help clients “reach multicultural audiences in an authentic voice.”

“In order to help our client [Sprite] reach a multicultural audience, the campaign ran across Complex and Hot Ones as well as BuzzFeed’s Black Identity brand, Cocoa Buttr, each of which has diverse, highly engaged and loyal audiences,” he told investors.

He later added, “We see creators, AI and moments as intersectional.”

Does this mean AI will generate identity based content?

Buzzfeed’s announcement raised concerns about the role of AI in generating “authentic” content for Black, Asian and Latine audiences.

But in a written statement, Lizzie Grams, Buzzfeed Public Relations, told POCIT: “We are explicitly NOT USING AI to create identity content.” Instead, Buzzfeed’s interactive formats with AI will complement its work with diverse creators and brands.

“We don’t use AI to make identity content for brands, and doing that would be the dumbest possible idea,” Grams added. “The reason “creators” is a pilar of our strategy is because it does what AI can’t! Creators speak in their own voice, and for themselves, and we support them and partner with them.”

Slide from Buzzfeed’s Investors Day presentation

BuzzFeed intends to take advantage of the ongoing “big arms race” in AI development, rather than creating its own machine learning models. Peretti explained that the company plans to build upon existing AI platforms and models, tapping into their capabilities through APIs while utilizing BuzzFeed’s expertise, creative content, and brand identity to differentiate their offerings.

The rise and fall of Buzzfeed

Once the envy of digital platforms worldwide, Buzzfeed’s journalism earned it several awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award. Its news division broke the story that helped lead to R Kelly’s decades-long prison sentence, and its expose on the toxic workplace culture at Ellen in part led to the Ellen DeGeneres ending the show after 19 seasons in.

But in recent years, BuzzFeed has faced its share of challenges, ncluding significant staff layoffs and buyouts between 2019 and 2021. The company acquired HuffPost in 2020 but closed its Canadian office the following year. After going public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in December 2021, BuzzFeed’s stock has experienced a significant decline in value.

In response to shareholder pressure, BuzzFeed made the decision to close its news team, leading to a 20% drop in stock value. As a result, HuffPost now stands as BuzzFeed’s sole dedicated digital news site. The company’s focus moving forward will be on profit-generating areas of the business, with AI playing a key role in developing identity-based content for corporate brands.

Jonah Peretti, expressing his vision for the future of digital media, stated, “I believe cultural moments will be the new currency.”

BuzzFeed aims to tap into these cultural moments, harnessing AI technology to enable corporate brands to connect with diverse audiences.

This article and headline was amended on Friday 19 May. The original article stated that Buzzfeed told investors it would use AI to develop content for its identity based brands. Lizzie Grams, Buzzfeed PR, has since stated that this is inaccurate, and instead, AI-generated content is one of Buzzfeed’s three intersecting pillars: AI, creators, and cultural moments.

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Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)