DeSantis Attack Ad Features Fake AI Images of Trump Embracing Fauci

    In an attack ad directed at Donald Trump, the campaign supporting Ron DeSantis for Republican presidential nomination in 2024 used what experts call AI-generated deepfakes.

    The “DeSantis War Room’ Twitter account shared on June 5th a video highlighting Trump’s support of Anthony Fauci, former White House chief physician advisor and key figure who helped develop the US response against COVID-19. Fauci is a figure that has been vilified by right-wing politicians, especially those in the anti-vax community. The attack ad aims to increase support for DeSantis, portraying Trump as a close collaborator with Fauci.

    The video contains real clips of Trump talking about Fauci, and a collage with six images of the men together. Three of the six images appear to have been AI-generated and show Trump hugging Fauci. The collage below shows them in the order of top-left (top-middle), bottom-right, and bottom right.

    AFP was the first to identify the fakes. They noted that the original images of the collage can be viewed here, here and here. The fake images do not show up in reverse image search results and they have several tells which suggest that they were generated by AI.

    The tells are blurred and glossy textures, especially in the hair of the men and their flesh (especially in the top left image), as well as physically unrealistic poses.

    Compare the sign to the one in the DeSantis advertisement. The text and shade of blue are nonsense. Reproducing legible text can be a challenge with current AI image-generation systems. You can see that Trump’s hair looks strangely smooth, with no features, and Fauci is a bit squished. The collage that was used to create the DeSanti advertisement. Close examination of the details reveals that it is an AI-generated fake.

    Hany Farid is an expert on image forensics at the University of California. He told the AFP it was “highly probable” that the pictures were fakes, especially since they couldn’t be found through reverse image searches.

    Siwei Lyu, a digital media forensics specialist, came to the same conclusion after noticing abnormalities in all three images. Lyu told AFP, “I’m pretty sure these photos aren’t real photos.”

    DeSantis’ political aide Christina Pushaw launched the “De Santis War Room’ Twitter account in August. Its use of AI shows that deepfakes are becoming more commonplace in US politics. Donald Trump mocked DeSantis on Twitter earlier this year by sharing an AI created image of him pleading and an audio fake. The RNC released an attack ad after Joe Biden announced that he was running for reelection in the year 2024. This ad also featured AI-generated images.

    Some of these fakes are obviously fakes, e.g. Trump’s audio deepfake featuring the Devil and Adolf Hitler continues to blur the lines between parodying and disinformation. This latest example further blurs the line between parody and disinformation with the combination of real and fake images in one collage. This collage takes a plausible narrative – that Trump and Fauci are friendly collaborators – and makes it more convincing to viewers who already believe the story. Deepfakes help politicians create their own realities

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