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Video of Lionel Messi speaking fluent English was AI-generated

Video of Lionel Messi speaking fluent English was AI-generated - Featured image

Author(s): Mary KULUNDU / AFP Kenya

A video of Lionel Messi appearing to speak highly fluent English has been viewed thousands of times in online posts that claim to show the football superstar’s stellar language skills. This viral clip has wowed many of his fans, but closer inspection shows the video was AI-generated: a watermark for the AI platform used to create it is visible on the bottom-right hand corner of the image.

On September 11, 2023, a Facebook page with more than 7,000 followers shared the clip with the caption “Lionel Messi speaking clear and concise English. Can your GOAT ever?”.

GOAT refers to “Greatest of All Time”, a term used to praise exceptional athletes.

The account belongs to a Nigerian content creator, who identifies as Mr. D. He introduces the video with a short commentary, in which he hails the Argentine star and challenges those who doubt the footage to look at the synchronisation between Messi’s lips and his words.

“See this video of Lionel Messi speaking clear English, clear English… it is not easy,” he says. “Trace his words with what he is saying.”

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on September 13, 2023 – Mary KULUNDU

The same claim was repeated in other Facebook posts (here, here, and here), as well as on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In the video, Messi talks about Inter Miami’s unexpected qualification in the United States Open Cup Final and hails the club’s head coach Tata Martino for the achievement.

“Despite the unexpected nature of the situation today we find ourselves in the final match. This game is for those who are unaware of our training and don’t witness our day-today efforts,” he is heard saying in an audio track that matches his lip movements.

“I believe that the team has experienced significant growth especially since Tata arrived.”

Messi usually speaks Spanish in interviews and press conferences, hence some viewers’ surprised reaction to the clip.

AI generator

Upon close examination of the video, we identified a watermark on the bottom-right side of the video in the form of a triangle logo with the words “HeyGen” below it.

This watermark belongs to HeyGen, a platform that allows users to generate videos using artificial intelligence. It can be used to make people “speak” in different languages. According to its website, it offers hundreds of voices in more than 40 languages.

A screenshot of another post featuring the clip, with HeyGen’s watermark circled in red

Using the video verification tool InVID-WeVerify, we conducted reverse image searches on different keyframes of the clip and located Messi’s original press conference on August 17, 2023 (see here and here, archived here and here).

At this presser, he expressed the same thoughts as in the AI-modified clip – but he was speaking in Spanish.

A translation of his original Spanish speech reveals that the AI generator translated his words into excellent English, then synchronised his lips movements.

According to reports (archived here), this was the 36-year-old’s first press conference after he joined the American club Inter Miami.

A further search using the keywords “Messi speaking English” revealed the clip we are debunking on this X account (archived here), belonging to an AI creator named Javi Fernandez.

“Stop bashing Messi. Using Artificial Intelligence, you can make anyone speak English,” reads the caption in Spanish.

Fernandez has a website where he describes himself as a “creative producer specialized in innovation”.

“I am fully immersed in Artificial Intelligence,” he says in his bio.

On August 3, 2023, HeyGen founder Joshua Xu announced that the company was exploring a new AI feature that would translate videos in minutes and provide accurate lip syncs.

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Originally published here.