NEW YORK (VINnews) — In a disturbing real-life example of the power of artificial intelligence to distort the facts and create an illusive reality, a fake image which showed an alleged explosion near the Pentagon went viral on social media Monday, being pushed by verified accounts and causing ripples even in the US stock market, according to an NBC news report.
The image, which depicts a large plume of smoke next to a rectangular building with a passing resemblance to the Pentagon, was shared by a series of verified news and open-source intelligence Twitter accounts. As of late April, verified users on Twitter are people who have paid $8 per month for the company’s “Blue” subscription service, which gives users a blue check mark along with some other perks, but the service no longer confirms the user’s identity.
The image appears to have first been shared on Twitter by an account with the handle @CBKNews121 at 8:42 a.m. ET. This verified account is known for supporting several conspiracy theories.
CBKNews did not respond to a request for comment on Twitter and later deleted the Pentagon explosion tweet. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, which is based out of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto, tweeted that the image showed signs of having been generated by artificial intelligence.
However before the image was deleted, it had already raised a scare on some more conventional sites
RT, Russia’s official propaganda outlet, tweeted at 10:03 a.m. ET about “reports of an explosion near the Pentagon.” Several Indian media outlets also reported the putative explosion.
A business news aggregation influencer with over 650,000 followers on Twitter who is best known for posting Bloomberg News headlines posted about a “Large Explosion near The Pentagon Complex” at 10:06 a.m. That account later deleted the tweet, but not until after racking up hundreds of retweets.
The spread of the tweet appeared to spook some investors. The S&P 500 dropped sharply in the minutes after the image was amplified by well-followed accounts. It later recovered those losses.
By this point, fake news organizations on Twitter which have purchased “verified” check marks began to push the hoax. The account @BloombergFeed, which is unaffiliated with Bloomberg, posted the conspiracy theory minutes later. That account has since been suspended by Twitter.
Around 10:27 a.m. ET, the Arlington, Virginia, fire department tweeted that “there is NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon.”
Nick Waters, an investigator at the digital investigations firm Bellingcat, told NBC News that the panic around the image “never made any sense.”
“There are quite a few red flags in this picture,” Waters said. “When you try to actually place this picture in space and geolocate it, you can’t because it’s not a real place. It’s not a building that’s anywhere in Washington authentically.”
Waters also noted that the fences in front of the fake building morph and meld into one another.