Fake Pope Images May Be First 'Mass-Level' Dupe

The pontiff was not wearing a stylish puffer jacket, despite those viral photos
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2023 3:03 PM CDT
Fake Pope Images May Be First 'Mass-Level' Dupe
Pope Francis adjusts his skull cap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.   (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis sure looked stylish over the weekend, with viral photos showing up on Twitter of him wearing a white puffer jacket. The problem is that the pontiff wore no such coat. The images were fakes, but they were high-quality fakes that fooled a lot of people.

  • The origins: As New Scientist explains, the images were generated by the artificial-intelligence tool Midjourney, which creates such images based on text prompts. They first surfaced on Reddit before migrating to Twitter over the weekend.
  • A milestone? "I think Balenciaga pope might be the first real mass-level AI misinformation case," observed internet culture expert Ryan Broderick on Twitter. "Kinda cool to watch tbh."

  • Turning point: Just how real did they look? At the Guardian, 35-year-old Joel Golby writes that he had thought he was immune to being fooled by fake photos that dupe much older people who are less tech savvy. These photos fooled him, however. "I suppose this is a turning point, then: the moment 'generation internet' finally got conned online," he writes.
  • Get ready: One theme in coverage from all of the above—as well as a CNN interview Monday morning—is that everyone better get ready to see lots more AI deepfakes in the weeks, months, and years ahead, and particularly during the upcoming election. In fact, fake images of Donald Trump being arrested fooled some people last week, notes the Washington Post.
  • One hint: For now, one standard giveaway to AI-generated images of people is that if you zoom in on the hands, they look a little weird, notes Forbes. "Midjourney has tremendous difficulty generating hands, and this image of the Pope is no different—however, it seems like a safe bet that this won’t be the case forever."
(More deepfakes stories.)

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