AI-generated images of 'McDonald's near pyramid' mislead South Korean social media users

Fast-food giant McDonald's does not have a branch in the pyramids of Egypt, contrary to posts repeatedly shared in South Korean social media in January 2024. The images in the false posts have been generated using artificial intelligence (AI) technology, according to the user who originally shared them on Chinese platform Xiaohongshu.

"Wow, the recent situation of a McDonald's in Egypt," reads a Korean-language post shared on South Korean forum MLB Park on January 30, 2024.

"The atmosphere is stunning," the forum user who wrote the post adds.

The post includes an image appearing to show the entrance to a McDonald's directly adjacent to one of the pyramids. Two other images appear to show a branch of the fast-food chain inside the ancient structure.

Screenshot of the post shared on MLB Park. Captured February 1, 2024.

Similar posts featuring the images were shared on multiple other South Korean forums including FM Korea and TCafe, as well as on Facebook.

Comments indicate many users believed the images were genuine.

"People will do anything for money," one wrote. 

"They'll probably rake in tons of money with this," said another.

An AFP photographer in Egypt visited the ancient site on January 29 and confirmed there was no McDonald's underneath or directly adjacent to the pyramids.

Pictures and video clips taken by AFP from the site that day show no McDonald's nearby.

The closest McDonald's to the pyramids is in the area of Al Haraneyah, more than two kilometres away, as seen on Google Maps and indicated on the website of fast-food chain in Egypt (archived links here and here).

'Fictional' images

Moreover, reverse image searches found multiple Chinese-language social media posts, including here and here, sharing an identical set of images with a watermark that reads "MUSE_NOTE".

A keyword search found the watermark is the name of an account on the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu, which published the pictures on January 8, 2024 (archived link). 

The account that posted the pictures also responded to users' comments that the pictures were generated with AI. They are also labelled with a statement from the creator that the content is "fictional".

Below are screenshot comparisons of the images in the false posts (left) and those posted on Xiaohongshu (right):

Screengrab comparisons of the pictures as seen in the false posts (left) and the images posted on the account on Xiaohongshu (right).

AFP inspected the images and spotted irregularities such as distorted limbs and physics-defying objects that experts have previously pointed out were distinctive markers of AI-generated graphics.

Below are screenshots of two images with the inconsistencies marked by AFP:

Screenshots of two of the images with inconsistencies marked by AFP in red.

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

Contact us