An image of a man carrying children through rubble has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media in posts linking it to the bombing of Gaza amid a war triggered by a deadly Hamas attack on Israel. But experts say the image shows signs of artificial intelligence and it was not published by news organizations with photographers in the region.
“Today’s best photo 27-October -2023,” says the text of a Facebook post shared 82,000 times. It includes an image that appears to show a man helping five children away from the scene of a destroyed building.
The image circulated widely on social media, as early as October 21 in an Instagram post using the hashtags “Gaza_under_attack” and “Free Palestine.” It was also amplified by the official X — formerly Twitter — account of the Chinese embassy in France.
“This image will symbolize the West for decades to come. They will not forgive and will not forget and those children (if they survive) will grow up angry, very angry,” an X post, on October 27 says.
The Hamas attack, the deadliest in Israel’s history, killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities. This triggered an all-out war that the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 8,700 people in Gaza, including thousands of children.
But the image has been digitally manipulated, experts say, and is likely generated by AI.
Irregular hands and feet
“This image is almost certainly AI-generated,” said Hany Farid, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and expert in digital forensics, misinformation and image analysis, on October 30. “In addition to our models classifying it as AI, there are telltale signs in the image like the misshapen arm of the adult,” the professor noted.
According to the director of the Media Forensic Lab at the University of Buffalo, Siwei Lyu, the image classifies “as AI generated by recent detection algorithms.”
He highlighted irregularities in the hands and feet in the image below.
Kimberly Ton Mai, a PhD candidate at the University College of London who researches machine learning, concurred.
“The limbs and the clothing in the image appear to be inconsistent. For example, the child on the man’s right shoulder wears a shirt that appears to blend into the man’s sleeve. The man’s arm is positioned where you would expect to see the child’s leg. The toes on the bare feet shown in the image are also not clearly defined,” she said on October 30.
Research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, Renee DiResta agreed, also pointing to the details in the hands and “the way in which the figures blend into the environment, and the nondescript characteristics of the environment (particularly in the background).”
Through a reverse image query on several search engines, AFP could not find any results matching the image from media outlets covering the conflict.
AFP has debunked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war here.