DeSantis campaign posts fake images of Trump hugging Fauci in social media video

Images included in video first shows Trump as host of 'The Apprentice' firing people
FILE - This combination of photos shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking on April 21, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md., left, and former President Donald Trump speaking on March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.  In his first week on the campaign trail as a presidential candidate, Gov. DeSantis repeatedly hit his chief rival, Donald Trump, from the right. DeSantis told a conservative radio host, “This is a different guy than 2015, 2016." Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly attacked DeSantis from the left, suggesting Florida’s new six-week abortion ban is “too harsh” and arguing DeSantis’ votes to cut Social Security and Medicare in Congress will make him unelectable in a general election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 08, 2023

The presidential campaign for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released a video on social media that appears to use images generated by artificial intelligence to depict former President Donald Trump hugging Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The images were included in a video posted Monday that first shows Trump as host of the reality TV show "The Apprentice" firing people and then pivots to sound bites of Trump praising Fauci and explaining why he could not fire the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At one point, the audio is laid over pictures of Trump and Fauci, including several of the two men appearing to embrace. The words "Real Life Trump" are transposed over the images.

Some of the images, however, carry the hallmarks of AI-generated content. None of those pictures yielded a match through a Google reverse image search. In one picture, purportedly of Trump and Fauci clutching one another in the White House briefing room, the lettering on the wall is jumbled, a sign that the image was created using an AI program. Trump and Fauci also look somewhat cartoonish in those pictures.

Hany Farid, a digital forensic expert and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, agreed that the images in the ad were AI-generated, noting the nonsensical text in the image supposedly from the briefing room.


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"This type of semantic inconsistency is still a weakness of generative AI," Farid said. "These problems, however, will eventually get resolved and we can expect generative-AI images to become increasingly more difficult to distinguish from reality. This is not the first use of generative AI in the upcoming election, and it certainly won’t be the last. Buckle up."

A person with the DeSantis campaign told CNN that the video was a social media post, not a paid advertisement, and pointed out that members of Trump's team had also used fake or doctored images in the past.

On Thursday afternoon, Twitter appended a community note to the post – a contributor-led feature to highlight misinformation on the social media platform — alerting the site's users that in the video "3 still shots showing Trump embracing Fauci are AI-generated images. The remainder of the ad's recordings and images are authentic."

Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis hearing, Friday, July 31, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Ohio Sen. JD Vance, a Republican who has endorsed Trump, seemed to criticize the video Thursday on Twitter, writing: "Smearing Donald Trump with fake AI images is completely unacceptable. I'm not sharing them, but we're in a new era. Be even more skeptical of what you see on the internet."

Trump, though, has also generated blowback in the past for posting doctored images and videos. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Trump retweeted to his followers a video of Joe Biden at a rally playing a song for the crowd on his phone. In the real version, Biden plays "Despacito," but the video Trump shared replaced it with N.W.A.'s famous anti-police anthem.

After DeSantis' botched campaign announcement on Twitter spaces, Trump posted a fake version of the announcement which included Adolf Hitler and featured Trump crashing the digital event to say a few words. In May, Trump's son Donald Trump, Jr. shared a video of a scene from "The Office" of Michael Scott wearing a woman's suit, however, the video was doctored to put DeSantis' face on Steve Carell's character.

The video also comes weeks after a super PAC supporting DeSantis, Never Back Down, released a video of DeSantis that was edited to add fighter jets flying over the candidate after a speech.

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