People online praised Pope Francis’ style this weekend after images of him wearing trendy outerwear went viral. But the pictures of him in a white puffer jacket are actually fake.
The AI-generated images of Francis appeared to originate on a subreddit dedicated to the AI program Midjourney on Friday and were later widely circulated on Twitter. The images fooled scores of users, in one of the first instances of wide-scale misinformation stemming from artificial intelligence.
As AI art programs become more accessible, people have been able to conjure up all kinds of hyperrealistic, fake images. While there are still flaws in many of these newer programs, they are getting better, making it harder to distinguish the real from the fake.
Even celebrity Chrissy Teigen was duped. “I thought the pope’s puffer jacket was real and didnt give it a second thought. no way am I surviving the future of technology,” tweeted Teigen.
“So, I was today year’s old when I found out that this image of Pope Francis in a puffer jacket was AI generated… First AI image I’ve been fooled by,” another user tweeted.
There was an uptick in searches for the pope shortly after pictures of him in the puffer were posted on Twitter, according to Google Trends. One tweet of the puffer pictures was retweeted over 25,000 times as of Monday afternoon.
The pope pictures circulated a few days after uncanny AI images of former President Donald Trump getting arrested went viral. While many people were skeptical of the Trump photos, a lot of users believed that the pope pictures were real, illustrating the improving realism of AI.
Still, there were a few tell-tale signs that the images of the pope were AI-generated, including wonky hands and a warped recreation of his crucifix.
The person behind the viral AI image did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and NBC News was not able to verify his identity. In an interview with Buzzfeed, he said, “I just thought it was funny to see the pope in a funny jacket.”
He added that it’s “definitely scary” that “people are running with it and thought it was real without questioning it.”