Image of man sleeping on American flag is digital creation

  • Published on June 13, 2024 at 19:03
  • Updated on June 13, 2024 at 19:06
  • 3 min read
Social media users are claiming an image of a man laying on top of an American flag in the street, as Ukrainian and Israeli banners fly in the distance, shows a city in the United States. But the picture is not authentic; its creator described it as "artwork," and media forensics experts told AFP it appears to be artificially generated.

"This sums up the state of the US in one photo," says a June 9, 2024 post on X.

Screenshot from X taken June 12, 2024

The picture depicts the man wrapped up with his eyes closed inside what appears to be a sleeping bag made in the design of the American flag. Flying behind him are several Ukrainian flags, and one that blends the Ukrainian and Israeli flags -- with a Star of David surrounded by white, blue and yellow stripes.

The image, which has circulated on X and other platforms for months, spread again in June as the United States reaffirmed support for Ukraine as it fends off Russia's invasion and Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Li Zexin, a journalist for Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, shared it. "A picture worth a million words," the journalist wrote.

But the image bears the markings of AI-generated imagery, experts told AFP.

"There appears to be strong evidence that this image is not real and was generated by an AI system," said Matthew Stamm, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Drexel University (archived here).


Reverse image search and keyword searches revealed the image dates to April 22, from an X account named "Jesus Motorcycle". A watermark for the account appears on some versions of the picture.

As social media users credited the picture to Li in June, "Jesus Motorcycle" responded with a link to his original post.

"That is my artwork," they wrote. "I am an American and I would like Ukraine and Israel to stop stealing my tax dollars to slaughter innocent people, here's my original post from April with my watermark."

Screenshot from X taken June 13, 2024

The user had indicated in prior posts that they have used Midjourney and other programs to create AI-generated images.

Signs of AI

Stamm and Drexel University doctoral student, Tai Nguyen, examined the image for AFP using software that searches for forensic traces left by AI technology.

These traces are not immediately visible to viewers, but are instead "statistical relationships between pixel values that show up as a result of the way that AI systems generate images," Stamm said.

"Our software indicates that this is highly likely to be an AI-generated image," Stamm said.

He said it appears to be the creation of stable diffusion, a type of AI that produces photorealistic images primarily from text prompts.

Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley, told AFP: "It is likely that this is an AI-generated image." (archived here).

Like Stamm, Farid identified "pixel-level artifacts that are commonly found in AI-generated images," among other inconsistencies that suggest it is inauthentic.

Beyond those signals, he noted that there appears to be a stray white light attached to a tree in the background of the image.

Stamm said other visual clues of fakery include the unusual banner in the background that combines the Ukrainian and Israeli flags, some "odd blending" with the man's sleeping bag and the oversized nature of the sack's American flag design.

"The blue-and-white stars on the American flag appear both under the man's head as well as covering his waist," he said. "This would suggest that the flag is improbably large, though it is possible that he is sleeping on a massive flag or two distinct flags."

Screenshot from X taken June 13, 2024, with elements outlined by AFP

AFP has previously debunked other AI-generated content here.

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

Contact us