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DeSantis campaign shares apparent AI-generated fake images of Trump and Fauci

A recent video from Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis includes an image with three fake photos of former President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci hugging. These three images appear to be AI-generated.
DeSantis War Room
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Screenshot and annotation by NPR
A recent video from Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis includes an image with three fake photos of former President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci hugging. These three images appear to be AI-generated.

Artificial intelligence is hitting the campaign trail. This week, a video from Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis included apparently fake images of former President Donald Trump hugging Anthony Fauci. It's the latest example of how rapidly evolving AI tools are supercharging political attacks by allowing politicians to blur the line between fact and fiction.

The video, posted Monday on Twitter by the Florida governor's rapid response team, slammed the former president's alleged support of Fauci, who has become a punching bag for Republicans for his role in crafting the nation's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a collage of six pictures of the two men, three appear to be AI-generated fakes depicting Trump and Fauci embracing. The other three are real photos of the two men together in March 2020, according to AFP, which first identified the fakes.

"It was particularly sneaky to intermix the real and the fake images, as if the presence of the real image would give more credibility to the other images," said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert and professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The three fake pictures bear multiple hallmarks of AI-generated imagery, including strangely textured and blurred hair, unnatural arm and hand rendering, and nonsensical text on a backdrop purporting to show the White House press briefing room.

"These problems, however, will eventually get resolved and we can expect AI-generated images, and audio and video, to become increasingly more difficult to distinguish from reality," Farid said.

The rapid improvement and deployment of generative AI, which can produce realistic images, audio, video and text, is raising alarms over how it could worsen the spread of misleading claims and propaganda, and be used to create entirely plausible yet false depictions of events that never happened.

This is not the first time the technology has been deployed in the 2024 presidential campaign. The Republican National Committee released an ad in April using AI-generated images to depict a series of imagined crises if President Joe Biden were to win a second term.

Last month, Trump mocked DeSantis's glitchy campaign launch on Twitter Spaces with a fake video featuring apparently AI-generated audio mimicking the voices of the Florida governor, Elon Musk, George Soros, Dick Cheney, Adolf Hitler, Satan and even Trump himself. The former president has previously shared other fakes, including an AI-generated one of himself praying and photoshopped images making fun of DeSantis.

But this week, Trump's supporters called foul on the DeSantis team's use of manipulated media.

"Smearing Donald Trump with fake AI images is completely unacceptable," tweeted Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican congresswoman from Georgia, retweeted Vance's message. "Those fake AI campaign ads need to be taken down immediately," Greene added.

"This was not an ad, it was a social media post," said a person with knowledge of the DeSantis operation. "If the Trump team is upset about this, I'd ask them why they have been continuously posting fake images and false talking points to smear the governor."

The Trump campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond
Shannon Bond is a correspondent at NPR, covering how misleading narratives and false claims circulate online and offline, and their impact on society and democracy.