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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Debunked: Irish users among those fooled by AI image of Pope in front of huge crowds

Headlines were made by a previous fake Francis photo, AI-generated by a man on magic mushrooms who wanted “to see the Pope in a funny jacket”.

A STRIKING IMAGE of Pope Francis standing before massive crowds, hands raised, has been spread with descriptions saying it shows a recent appearance in Portugal.

While the Pope did appear before large crowds at the 37th World Youth Day in Lisbon, that photo of him with his hands raised was generated by artificial intelligence.

The AI image was created using a tool called Midjourney,  according to the person who first shared it, who also showed other attempts at making AI images of the Pope.

Pope 1 Matt Kielczewski & Midjourney Matt Kielczewski & Midjourney

An AI-generated image of Pope Francis previously made headlines this year, in part due to ridiculousness of the big puffy jacket he appeared to be wearing.

That image was also generated on Midjourney by a Chicago construction worker who claimed afterwards that he did it after taking magic mushrooms and thinking it would be humorous “to see the Pope in a funny jacket”.

And like that previous photo of the Pope, which broke the rules of both fashion and geometry, there are telltale signs on the image supposedly from Portugal that corroborate the creator’s claims that it was made by a computer.

“Pope Francis with 2 million young people in Lisbon, Portugal, just a few days ago!”, a Facebook post by an Irish user reads.

“Amazing! Praise the Lord! We had 1.2 million people in Phoenix Park in Ireland with Pope John Paul 11 in September-October 1978…2.7 million overall at all the venues!……I never thought that I would witness such a huge number together like this in my lifetime….What an inspirational pic!”

(News outlets, including Reuters, reported that 1.5 million people were estimated to have seen the pope in Lisbon). 

Other users also posted the image, which was shared more than a thousand times on Facebook.

Although Pope Francis did celebrate mass in Lisbon during World Youth Day in early August, the image shared in the posts had been generated using AI technology.

AFP found that the picture was originally shared on Twitter (now rebranded as X), on 6 August by a user named Matt Kielczewski.

“Managed to get a close up of the pope at #JMJ2023Lisboa#JMJ2023,” reads the caption, referring to the acronym for Jornada Mundial da Juventude, the Portuguese translation for World Youth Day.

Replying to commenters who said the image was “fake”, Kielczewski responded by saying the image was “100% not real” and “100% AI”.

He also told AFP the image was generated by AI.

“I confirm this is my photo, I created it using Midjourney AI prompts,” he said.

The online tool generates images from text prompts that users type into the chat platform Discord.

Kielczewski also shared the screenshots with AFP to show his attempts at creating the photo using Midjourney.

Pope comparison Matt Kielczewski & Midjourney via AFP Other attempts at making AI-generated Pope images. Matt Kielczewski & Midjourney via AFP

A closer review of the photo also shows one of the Pope’s hands appears distorted, a common feature of AI-generated images.

Pope Francis celebrated mass at Parque Tejo, a park on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital, on August 6.

A handout photo from the Vatican published here in AFP’s archives shows the actual mass where the Pope could be seen using a wheelchair.

The handout photo shows a partial view of the Tagus river that passes through Lisbon while the AI generated image shows a tall building and trees.

That, as well as other images from the Pope’s time in Lisbon, further indicate that the image of the Pope shared by Kielczewski was not actually taken in Lisbon.

It’s not clear why the Pope has become such a popular target of AI-generated images – but like the picture of him in a white puffy jacket, this one is also fake.

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