Digital artwork of 'last tree' in Brazil neighbourhood misrepresented as genuine

A digitally created image appearing to show a single tree in a very cramped neighbourhood resurfaced in Burmese social media posts with the false claim it shows a genuine scene in Rocinha, a neighbourhood in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro city. The image's creator told AFP he used various "post-production and image processing" techniques while an analysis of the image found elements of digital editing.

"The last tree, Rocinha, Brazil," read a Facebook post on April 29, 2024 referring to a favela neighbourhood in the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro.

The post included an image of a single tree surrounded by what appear to be countless houses.

Screenshot of the false post, taken on May 10, 2024

The image was also shared with a similar claim on Facebook here and here.

Comments to the posts indicated people believed the image was genuine.

"How can we live in a place where there is no place left for trees to grow," one wrote.

"Greens are going extinct," said another.

But AFP has previously debunked posts in Portuguese that also misrepresented the image as if it showed a real scene.

Digitally created

A reverse image search followed by keyword searches on Google found the image published by a Brazilian visual artist named Luiz Bhering on Instagram on October 1, 2021 (archived link).

The Portuguese-language caption to the post read in part: "In response to a request, I am publishing the work 'Resistência', which I printed today."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image in the false posts (left) and the one published by Bhering on Instagram (right):

screenshot comparison of the photo from the misleading post (left) to the photo published by the artist (right)

Bhering earlier shared the same image on Instagram on September 23, 2018 (archive link).

He told AFP the image was digitally created using "different post-production and image processing" techniques.

Bhering added the image used a picture taken in 2017 from Complexo do Alemão, a group of favelas in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro.

"The same image was used several times but the tree just appears in one of them," he told AFP.

"I also reduced the perspective so it all remained flat. Houses are intentionally repeated," he added.

An analysis of the image found identical houses appear multiple times in several parts.

Below is a screenshot of the image with the repeating elements highlighted by AFP in red:

Screenshot of the image with the repeated elements highlighted by AFP

AFP has debunked more posts that misrepresented digital artworks as genuine here, here and here.

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