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That Viral Image of the Pope Wearing a Dope Jacket Was Fake

That Viral Image of the Pope Wearing a Dope Jacket Was Fake

If something seems too good to be true, that’s probably because it is.

Over the weekend, an image of Pope Francis wearing some major drip melted the Internet.

Unfortunately, the Dope Pope has turned out to be completely fake. The image, which was initially posted to Reddit, was created using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence tool that generates highly realistic fake images.

Midjourney’s software programs allow anyone to describe the image they want to see using text. Then, using millions of images from the web (including copyrighted ones), these AI image generators create images that are almost indistinguishable from real photos. And while it may seem like a cool party trick — and in the case of the Pope pics, it definitely was — there are also some serious implications to this technology.

For one, it raises the question of copyright infringement. Companies like Getty Images are already arguing that their intellectual property is being infringed upon, and court documents even show that Stable Diffusion’s image generator sometimes includes a crude element that looks like the Getty watermark.

But even more concerning is the potential for this technology to be used to spread disinformation and misinformation. As we’ve seen with recent political events, fake news can have real-life consequences. And with the 2024 presidential election just over the horizon, things could get messy very quickly.

Buzzfeed News spoke with the creator behind the viral images, who was blown away by the Internet’s reaction. Pablo Xavier (who has hidden his last name for fear of further backlash) initially created the images for fun (while under the influence) and posted them to Reddit because he thought others might enjoy them. He had no idea it would cause the Internet to erupt into shambles.

“I just thought it was funny to see the Pope in a funny jacket,” he said. “I figured I was going to get backlash. I just didn’t think it was going to be to this magnitude.”

After he was banned from Reddit, he realized the potential negative impact of AI-generated images.

“It’s definitely going to get serious if they don’t start implementing laws to regulate it,” he said. “As far as using it for regular images, if you want to do a Vincent van Gogh, I feel that kind of stuff is fine. Using it for public figures, that might be the line.”

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