The Russian Embassy in Kenya shared an image on Twitter on April 6 showing an exhausted-looking Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been incarcerated in the United Kingdom since 2019.
However, it turns out that one of his supporters generated the image using artificial intelligence.
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The fact-check, in detail
“13 years ago, Julian Assange released a video showing US Forces firing on Iraqi civilians, including children for no reason. Now he faces up to 175 years in prison for publishing it,” tweeted the Russian Embassy in Kenya on April 6. The post featured an image of Assange in prison – his eyes closed, looking ill and exhausted – and has since garnered more than 700,000 views.
In the comments sections, users expressed their dismay that the WikiLeaks founder was being incarcerated in such poor health.
The same image was shared on March 31 in a tweet in French, which has since garnered more than 191,000 views.
Julian Assange faces charges in the United States for having published confidential documents about the US army, particularly their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010.
Assange was arrested in London in 2019 after having spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has been in a prison in Belmarsh, a suburb of the British capital, since.
Human Rights groups like Amnesty International and various media outlets have called on the American government to drop charges.
Clues that show this image is AI-generated
While there still isn’t a tool that can always identify an image created by artificial intelligence, there are several visual inconsistencies that become apparent once you know what to look for.
Our team is well-versed in spotting AI-generated images and there are a few elements of this image that made us immediately suspicious. For example, his right ear looks blurred (noted in red), the tiles behind him are irregular (noted in blue) and his eyelids seem strange (noted in white).
There are visual inconsistencies that made us wonder right off the bat if the photo was AI-generated. © Observers However, the biggest giveaway is that there is a watermark across the image that reads “photo property of ‘E'”.
A fake image generated by artificial intelligence
Our team did a reverse image search (find out how by clicking here) and found the first time the image was posted online. It turned out it was first posted by a Twitter account called “The Errant Friend” on March 30.
The account, which proclaims its support for Assange, regularly publishes AI-generated images, like this image showing Donald Trump posing in prayer. The author of the account says he created that image, too.
On his Telegram channel, “The Errant Friend” (“E”) said he also created the image of Julian Assange.
“Julian has been effectively removed from the public’s eye since his arrest, and as part of the intelligence community’s designs has been legally barred from appearance including at his own trials. I sought to make his documented suffering real, and succeeded in doing so”, he said in a message from April 1
When contacted by French press agency AFP, he said that he had used version 5 of Midjourney, a program that generates images using artificial intelligence. Assange’s support group “Don’t extradite Assange” also shared this story.
“The Errant Friend” account has also published other images of Julian Assange generated by artificial intelligence.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian embassies have been regularly sharing fake images in order to discredit Ukrainian and Western authorities, like this fake news story about Ukrainians vandalising Nazi symbols at the World Cupor these fakeanti-Ukrainian ads. Embassies have also shared false information about Russian attacks in Ukraine, such as this claim that Russia had launched strikes on an ammunition depot, when in fact it hit a shopping mall that was open to the public.
The image of Julian Assange in prison is the first example of an AI-generated image used by a Russian embassy to spread disinformation that our team has identified.