Social media users in recent weeks have been circulating an old-timey photo of men standing next to a giant horse. While the photo looks like it came from a bygone era, it was actually generated by artificial intelligence. It is just one of a number of AI-generated images that have been presented online as real historical photos. Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, a historian who specialises in debunking fake historical photos, spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
The sepia-toned image, by German artist Boris Eldagsen, shows two women, the first with her arms wrapped around the second. Entitled “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician”, it won a prize at the Sony World Photography Awards. However, Eldagsen turned it down.
Why? Because it turns out, Eldagsen’s photo was actually generated by artificial intelligence
German artist Boris Eldagsen generated this photo using artificial intelligence. It actually won the creative category at the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards.
Eldagsen explained that he wanted to spark a discussion about the future of photography.
“AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this. They are different entities. AI is not photography,” Eldagsen wrote on his website.
Fake photos of Nazis, Easter rabbits and giant horsesThe recent rise in programs allowing users to generate images through AI has resulted in an increase in fake historical photos. In some cases, people have created them expressly to spread disinformation.
On April 6, a Twitter account shared “rare footage from an unknown private film collection archive, that supposedly shows objects and ancient devices that were discovered and then taken away during the Nazi expeditions in Egypt and Antarctica.” The tweet has garnered more than 380,000 views.
The video that appears in this tweet isn’t actually from a historical archive, it was AI-generated. © Twitter
This video comprises images shared on Instagram by Infinite Odyssey magazine, which explains clearly in its bio that it is “the first fully A.I. created Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror Magazine.”
Another example is this photo that looks like it was taken sometime in the 19th century, featuring several men standing next to a giant horse. The photo was shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook after being posted on a page called “Animals are amazing”.
This photo, which was shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook, was generated by artificial intelligence. © Facebook / Animals Are Amazing
However, if you take a closer look at the picture, a few things that stand out. The man standing behind the horse has enormous fingers and the people’s faces don’t seem fully formed. Both of these are common in images generated by artificial intelligence.
It turns out that the image was created as a joke, but it was then picked up by other pages that shared it as if it were real.
‘You get a wrong impression about the past’Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse is a historian based in the Netherlands who specialises in debunking fake historical images. She runs the Twitter account @FakeHistoryHunt.
For me, the main problem is that it’s fake history, I don’t mind AI stuff but you should always know it’s fake or you get a wrong impression about the past, no matter how you look at it, the image is a lie.
Teeuwisse wrote a blog post about a photo, shared widely on social media, said to show a house built in the art nouveau style in Bucharest, Romania.
One of the posts on the Facebook page “Abandoned World” has been shared more than 119,000 times since January 30.
La légende indique : “Maison de rêve, Bucarest, Roumanie”. Cette maison est bien un rêve, puisqu’elle n’existe pas, ayant été générée par intelligence artificielle, ce que ne précise pas explicitement la légende. © Facebook / Abandoned House
However, there is nothing real about this photo. Belgian artist Thierry Lechanteur created it, using AI. But a number of accounts that shared this photo failed to mention that.
For her part, Teeuwisse admits that she would have liked for the photo to be real. She wrote about it in her blog:
And architecture is an easy target, many people are bored with modern architecture and the concrete jungles our cities have become.
They long for the romantic old architecture, the magical villas, the richly decorated houses, they prefer the buildings of the past, even if sometimes this past never really existed. […]
But I don’t understand why people feel the need to pretend it’s real, just share it as AI, the building won’t be any less gorgeous because of it.
So how can you spot a fake historical photo when you come across it? Teeuwisse explained that she’s developed a few tricks over the years:
First I use my instinct, I’ve been analysing historical images for decades, I collect old photos, sometimes you just feel something is wrong even if you can’t say what it is yet.
Then I try to find the biggest version of the picture so I can check out the details.
Hands are what I examine first, most AI programmes still have problems with hands and you often see that people have too many fingers or they just look weird.
Then I put them through a reverse image search to try and find when & where they were uploaded first, this often tells us more about the source.
I also regularly use AI detection software, it’s pretty good although AI creation software is improved all the time so it doesn’t always work with newer versions.
Whenever she has a doubt, she uses online tools like Hive Moderation, which can tell you how likely it is that an image was generated by AI.
She used this site, for example, to examine an image showing people celebrating Easter with a creepy Easter Bunny costume.
Even though the software isn’t always correct, in this case, it determined that there was a 99% chance that the image was generated by artificial intelligence.
Not sure why someone made this, I mean it’s not like there aren’t already 210312094 billion very very disturbing real easter bunny photos 😉 pic.twitter.com/pOeMyZf6Qj
— Fake History Hunter (@fakehistoryhunt) April 8, 2023
True to her comment, life can be stranger than fiction – Teeuwisse has actually shared a number of authentic photos of people wearing truly frightening bunny costumes like this or this.
Why is it so hard to tell with these images? Teeuwisse explains
I think people share them because they think they’re real, once they find out they’re fake they share them to show people they’re fake.
People also share the real ones, I guess they just share stuff they think looks interesting and don’t bother to fact check it first or don’t care.