Fake AI image of Pentagon explosion goes viral on Twitter

May 24, 2023

Pentagon explosion

Just when you thought you were getting accustomed to spotting fake news, we now have to deal with fake images popping up on social media. 

There was an explosion at the Pentagon on Monday 22nd of May – or at least that’s what you might’ve believed if you saw this photo circulating on Twitter.

AI Pentagon explosion
Fake AI-generated image of Pentagon explosion

It wasn’t until observers zoomed into the building and railings that they realized this was, in fact, an AI-generated image. If you look carefully, you can see they blend into each other – but it’s far from obvious. 

One Twitter user spotted distortions to the building and fencing, suggestive of an AI image

The Arlington Fire Department quickly denounced the images as fake, but that wasn’t before the story was picked up by Russia Today – who promptly deleted it – and Indian media outlets News18 MP, First India News, Times Now Navbharat, and Zee News. 

Shockingly, the reaction was substantial enough to cause the US stock market to fall by 0.3% between 10.06 am and 10.10 am ET. 

The original poster hasn’t been identified, nor has the tool used to generate the image, though it was likely DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, or Midjourney

Deep fakes on the rise

Deep fakes are nothing new, but this one wasn’t as benign as the Pope wearing a Balenciaga puffer jacket. 

Pope puffer jacket
Midjourney image of the Pope wearing a puffer jacket

This latest deep fake fiasco also highlights the danger of “Twitter Blue,” as several accounts that shared the story carried a blue check mark, including one impersonating Bloomberg. Twitter Blue has been criticized for providing credibility to accounts impersonating celebrities, businesses, and even government agencies. 

Some AI tools can detect fake images, including Google’s forthcoming “About this image” tool.

However, the quality of AI image outputs will only improve, so it’s still down to humans to judge what’s real and what isn’t – for now, at least. 

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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