Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) officially announced his presidential campaign on May 24, challenging former president Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. The contest has quickly become a bitter one, with both men taking frequent public shots at the other.
On June 5, a Twitter account affiliated with the DeSantis campaign tweeted a video attacking Trump for not firing Anthony Fauci when Trump was president. Fauci was the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for decades, and the face of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic – a response DeSantis has vehemently criticized.
At one point in the video, a collage of images is shown depicting Trump appearing friendly with Fauci, some even seeming to show the two men hugging during press briefings.
Viewers on Twitter were quick to claim that some of those images were not authentic photographs, but instead deepfakes created using artificial intelligence.
Are these images of Donald Trump hugging Anthony Fauci, posted by the DeSantis campaign, genuine photographs?
No, these are not genuine photographs. These images were created using artificial intelligence.
WHAT WE FOUND
VERIFY isolated each of the six pictures included in the collage portion of the video, and used reverse image search to identify whether they had been published before.
Three of the images – where Donald Trump is standing or sitting near Anthony Fauci – had been published before, confirming their authenticity. They were all taken and published by news or government photographers at public events in March of 2020.
However, there are no instances of the three photos of Trump embracing Fauci appearing online before the DeSantis attack ad aired. Given the constant presence of media at public events for the president – and especially for appearances alongside Fauci during the pandemic – any such hug would have been photographed and widely published.
That is the first clue these images were created with artificial intelligence. A close examination of the images also shows clues these images are not genuine and instead created with AI.
The image on the top left appears to take place in the White House press briefing room. But a decal on the wall featuring a White House logo, rather than reading “The White House,” reads “MEHTHAP.” AI images often have trouble recreating text, and the text appears garbled or incorrect.
The image in the bottom-middle – purporting to show Trump kissing Fauci on the cheek – has signs of computer generation, too. Trump’s left hand appears to have no thumb, and his right arm is contorted around Fauci in a physically nonsensical way. Both Fauci’s face and Trump’s hair also appear bizarrely smooth and without texture. AI has difficulty matching the shapes of real hands, as well as hair texture.
Similarly the bottom-right image – purporting to show the two men hugging – has an absence of texture in Trump’s hair and in Fauci’s face that are telltale signs of AI generation.
The other three images, meanwhile, have clearly identifiable sources, locations, and timestamps.
The picture in the top-center of the collage is a photograph taken by Alex Wong on March 20, 2020 – showing Trump listening to Fauci as he briefs the press. The photo is distributed by Getty Images and has been used in multiple news articles.
The picture in the top-right was taken on March 3, 2020 by Chia-Chi Chang, a staff photographer for the National Institutes of Health. It was included in an NIH press release about the president visiting the NIH to receive a briefing on COVID-19.
The image in the bottom-left was taken March 25, 2020 by Jonathan Ernst, showing Fauci and Trump – along with Vice President Mike Pence – at a daily coronavirus press briefing. The photograph is distributed by Reuters and has been used in multiple news articles.
The DeSantis campaign did not immediately respond to VERIFY’s request for comment. But shortly after the ad was posted, the same DeSantis War Room Twitter account posted another video with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer downplaying the criticism directed at the previous video’s use of AI imagery.
Senior DeSantis campaign staffer Christina Pushaw also posted a tweet mocking the criticism – pointing out Trump himself has also posted AI-generated images to attack DeSantis.