Image of Palestinian carrying children out of rubble shows signs of AI

  • Published on November 1, 2023 at 17:39
  • Updated on April 29, 2024 at 17:03
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP USA
An image of a man carrying children through rubble has been shared tens of thousands of times in social media posts linking it to Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip, which the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 3,700 children. But experts say the image shows signs of artificial intelligence -- and it was not published by news organizations with photographers covering the war, which was triggered by a deadly Hamas attack on Israel. 

"Today's best photo 27-October -2023," says the text of a Facebook post shared 82,000 times. It includes an image that appears to show a man helping five children away from the scene of a destroyed building.

The image circulated widely on social media from as early as October 21 in an Instagram post using the hashtags "Gaza_under_attack" and "Free Palestine." It was also amplified by the official X -- formerly Twitter -- account of the Chinese embassy in France.

"This image will symbolize the West for decades to come. They will not forgive and will not forget and those children (if they survive) will grow up angry, very angry," an X post, on October 27 says. 

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on November 1, 2023
A screenshot of an X post taken on November 1, 2023

The Hamas attack, the deadliest in Israel's history, killed at least 1,400 people -- mostly civilians, including children, according to Israeli authorities. Israel responded by declaring war and bombing Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry reports more than 9,000 people have been killed.

"Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children," said James Elder, spokesman for the UN children's agency UNICEF.

The World Health Organization said direct bombardment was not the only risk -- lack of clean water and electricity endangers the more than one million children living in Gaza, particularly premature infants that are dependent on incubators. 

Images of the devastation have fueled anger abroad, where large-scale protests in support of a ceasefire have been held. 

AFP photographers and others in Gaza have captured many pictures of parents trying to help injured and scared children -- but the image circulating online has been digitally manipulated, experts say, and was likely generated by AI.

Irregular hands and feet

"This image is almost certainly AI-generated," said Hany Farid, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and expert in digital forensics, misinformation and image analysis, on October 30. "In addition to our models classifying it as AI, there are telltale signs in the image like the misshapen arm of the adult," the professor noted.  

According to the director of the Media Forensic Lab at the University of Buffalo, Siwei Lyu, the image classifies "as AI generated by recent detection algorithms."

He highlighted irregularities in the hands and feet in the image below.

An image created on October 30, 2023 by Media Forensic Lab Director Siwei Lyu, highlighting signs of AI manipulation

Kimberly Ton Mai, a PhD candidate at the University College of London who researches machine learning, concurred.

"The limbs and the clothing in the image appear to be inconsistent. For example, the child on the man's right shoulder wears a shirt that appears to blend into the man's sleeve. The man's arm is positioned where you would expect to see the child's leg. The toes on the bare feet shown in the image are also not clearly defined," she said on October 30.

Research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, Renee DiResta agreed, also pointing to the details in the hands and "the way in which the figures blend into the environment, and the nondescript characteristics of the environment (particularly in the background)."

Through a reverse image query on several search engines, AFP could not find any results matching the image from media outlets covering the conflict.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war here.

This article was updated to add background on the war.
November 2, 2023 This article was updated to add background on the war.

Is there content that you would like AFP to fact-check? Get in touch.

Contact us