Viral image of Pope Francis addressing crowds is AI generated

22 August 2023
What was claimed

A photo shows Pope Francis addressing a crowd of two million people in Lisbon.

Our verdict

The image is created using AI. While Pope Francis did address large crowds in Lisbon earlier this month, this is not a real photo. Half a million people were reportedly at the event.

A photo circulating on social media appears to show Pope Francis addressing a dense crowd of people in Lisbon, Portugal. However, the photo has been generated using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. 

The image, which has been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter (now known as X), shows Pope Francis with his back to the camera, standing in front of a large crowd of people stretching into the distance.

Many of the posts have similar captions saying: “Look at that crowd! Two million young people attending Mass with Pope Francis in Lisbon! [sic]”

Another post says: “Not a music concert or sports events. What God can gather and unite, no man can. 2 million young people in Lisbon, with the Pope, for the sake of the gospel.”

While it’s true that Pope Francis visited Lisbon on 3 August in celebration of World Youth Day, this is not a real photo of events. 

A reverse image search shows the photo first appeared on X on 5 August and has the caption: “Managed to get a close up of the pope at #JMJ2023Lisboa #JMJ2023”. The acronym refers to Jornada Mundial de Juventude, which is the Portuguese translation for World Youth Day. 

The account posting the photo later said it’s: “100% not real” and “100% AI”. Fact checkers at Agence France-Presse (AFP) also reported that the account confirmed the image was created using AI software, Midjourney, and shared its other attempts to create the AI image. 

A closer look at the image using an online magnifying tool shows one of the Pope’s hands has only three fingers while both are pixelated, blurry around the edges and missing knuckles and fingernails. The ‘faces’ in the crowd are also blurry and lack any detail. You can find out more about identifying and verifying AI images using our guide here

As we’ve said, many of the posts claim two million young people are in the images. But news reports generally put the number of young people gathered in Lisbon’s Edward VII Park for the official welcome ceremony of World Youth Day at around half a million. Several posts sharing the AI image quote from the Pope’s actual address in the caption. 

Genuine footage showing the crowds can be seen here

AI images can be very convincing and spread quickly online. This is not the first time Pope Francis has been the subject of this kind of misinformation with an AI generated image of him wearing a puffer jacket going viral earlier this year. We’ve also written about AI images showing Prince William and Harry embracing each other at King Charles’ coronation and President Macron in front of flames during recent protests.

Image courtesy of Long Thiên

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