Fake AI-generated image of explosion near Pentagon goes viral

Science

A fake image that appeared to show an explosion near the Pentagon briefly went viral on social media and left fact-checkers and the local fire service scrambling to counter the claim.

It appeared the image, which purported to show a large cloud of black smoke next to the US headquarters of the Department of Defence, was created using AI technology.

It was first posted on Twitter on Monday morning and it was quickly recirculated by verified, but fake, news accounts.

Department of Defence spokesperson Phillip Ventura told the Reuters news agency that the reports of an explosion were “false”.

The local fire department, Arlington Fire, tweeted: “There is NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation, and there is no immediate danger or hazards to the public.”

The image was described as “clearly AI generated” by Nick Waters, an investigator at the digital investigations firm Bellingcat.

“Check out the frontage of the building, and the way the fence melds into the crowd barriers,” he wrote on Twitter.

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He pointed out there were no other photos, video or eyewitness accounts of the supposed explosion.

However, that did not stop Russian state-backed news channel RT tweeting about “reports of an explosion near the Pentagon”.

Fake accounts pretending to be news outlets with paid-for blue ticks also retweeted the image.

The hoax is one of several AI-generated images that have made headlines recently.

A convincing deepfake of the Pope wearing a white Balenciaga puffer coat went viral and the winner of the Sony Photograph Awards turned down the prize after admitting his entry was created by AI.

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