Fake AI images keep going viral – here are eight that have caught people out

By John Mercury December 14, 2023

Fact-checkers have highlighted notorious examples of AI-generated images going viral this year, including Prince William and Prince Harry embracing at the King’s coronation.

Increasingly powerful and accessible tools like Midjourney and OpenAI‘s DALL-E 3 have made creating realistic pictures with nothing but a text prompt quicker and easier than ever.

While supporters of the tech, known as generative artificial intelligence, say it can empower artists, it’s led to concerns about the potential for misinformation to spread.

Charity Full Fact has picked out eight examples from 2023 that have been shared thousands of times.

They have since either been marked as AI-generated by social media platforms or taken down.

Prince William and Prince Harry reunited

An AI-generated image of Prince Harry and Prince William at the King's coronation. Pic: Full Fact

A slideshow of eight images appearing to show the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex at the King’s coronation spread widely on Facebook, with more than 78,000 likes.

One of them shows a seemingly teary-eyed embrace – but none of the pictures are genuine.

Full Fact found they were originally published in a blog post where the author explained how they’d used the Midjourney image generator to “imagine a heartfelt reconciliation” between them.

Julian Assange in prison

A fake AI-generated image of Julian Assange in prison. Pic: Full Fact

A picture of the WikiLeaks founder looking ill at Belmarsh prison was made using Midjourney.

Its creator admitted as much when interviewed by German newspaper Bild, but not before the image was shared on Facebook and reposted 29,000 times on X.

Donald Trump’s mugshot

An AI-generated image of Donald Trump's mugshot. Pic: Full Fact

Before the former US president posted his real mugshot on X, a number of fake versions did the rounds.

Some of them have more than a million views, despite a major giveaway being the jumbled letters behind him. AI generators often struggle to recreate text in an image.

Mr Trump was previously the subject of AI-generated images appearing to show the moment of his arrest.

Emmanuel Macron amid French riots

An AI-generated image of Emmanuel Macron. Pic: Full Fact

During riots in France, a picture went viral of Emmanuel Macron sitting in a street with rubbish burning behind him.

Full Fact said the image was widely shared, with one post amassing over 55,000 views and attracting comments suggesting the media was ignoring the story.

Pope Francis’ huge audience

An AI-generated image of the Pope. Pic: Full Fact

A picture of the Pope addressing a huge crowd in Lisbon was viewed tens of thousands of times on social media.

But a closer look showed it wasn’t real – one of the Pope’s hands had three fingers.

It came a few months after an eerily convincing AI image of the Pope in a puffer jacket went viral.

Elon Musk’s ‘robot wives’

An AI-generated image of Elon Musk. Pic: Full Fact

The SpaceX billionaire has made no secret of his desire to create humanoid robots, but not “robot wives”.

Posts featuring images of him kissing such models were shared on Facebook and X, created by a digital artist.

Titanic submersible debris

During the search for the Titan submersible, Midjourney was used to make an image purporting to show debris.

It showed a gaming controller floating underwater with the caption: “Breaking: Imploded titan titanic submarine controller found floating near surface.”

It followed reports the sub was controlled using a modified controller and was seen more than 300,000 times on X.

Rishi Sunak’s bad pint

The image posted by Karl Turner MP (L) and the original photo posted on Number 10's Flickr account (R)
Image:
The image posted by Karl Turner MP (L) and the original photo posted on Number 10’s Flickr account (R)

Critics of the prime minister paint him as someone who’s out of touch, and a shot of him pouring a bad pint was one example.

This image was an edited picture from an August beer festival. The pint was made to look much worse, while an onlooker was given a bemused facial expression.

It received more than 78,000 views on X, not helped by the fact it was shared by Labour MP Karl Turner.

Full Fact said the government and regulator Ofcom must prioritise public media literacy ahead of the next election, helping them recognise fake images and question what they see online.

Chief executive Chris Morris added: “A lack of action risks reducing trust in what people see online. This risks weakening our democracy, especially during elections.”

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