Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his 2024 presidential campaign have come under criticism for using fake images generated with artificial intelligence (AI) depicting former President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Donald Trump became a household name by FIRING countless people *on television.* But when it came to Fauci …,” the DeSantis War Room account said in the tweet.
“These images contain many signs indicating that they were AI-generated,” Matthew Stamm, an associate professor at Drexel University who specializes in detecting falsified images and videos, told AFP.
“For example, if you look closely at Donald Trump's hair in the top-left, bottom-middle, and bottom-right images, you can see that it contains inconsistent textures and is significantly blurrier than other nearby content such as his ears or other regions of his face.”
AFP could not independently determine the origin of the three pictures showing Trump embracing Fauci. A reverse image search for original sources did not yield any results, but AFP was able to identify the other three photos—which show Trump and Fauci simply standing or sitting near each other—as genuine images from March 2020.
Backlash Against DeSantisThe DeSantis campaign’s attempt to present fake images as real has attracted severe criticism online.
“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,” Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) said in a June 8 tweet.
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ rapid response director, attempted to justify the use of fake AI images by pointing out an image shared by Trump that was edited to portray the Florida governor riding a rhinoceros.
“I think this might be an AI-generated image. Who knows?” Pushaw said in her June 8 tweet.
Donald Trump Jr. dismissed Pushaw's defense.
Threat of AI Fake ContentThe threat posed by AI deepfakes in spreading misinformation during elections and influencing voters has been widely discussed ever since AI tools began proliferating over the past year.
Some have suggested that election campaigns would need rapid response teams to quickly debunk false claims. However, there are concerns that the debunking may not achieve similar levels of audience reach compared to the original deepfake ads.
In a May 3 statement, the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) condemned the use of “deceptive generative AI content” in political campaigns, calling it a “troubling challenge” to free and fair debate on political ideas.
“While the public’s trust in institutions and campaigns has been shaken in recent decades, the use of ‘deep fake’ generative AI content is a dramatically different and dangerous threat to democracy. The AAPC Professional Code of Ethics currently clearly condemns false and misleading statements,” the organization said.
“Deep fake generative AI is contrary to the Code of Ethics because, at its core, ‘deep fake’ content is a deception and has no place in legitimate, ethical campaigns. Therefore, AAPC’s Code of Ethics prohibits the use of ‘deep fake’ generative AI content.”
DeSantis is the top contender against Trump in the 2024 Republican primaries. However, there is a wide gulf between the two in terms of voter support, according to multiple polls.
A survey of 1,520 adults in late May by Yahoo News/YouGov revealed that Trump had the support of 53 percent of potential Republican primary voters, up from 48 percent in early May before DeSantis announced his candidacy. Meanwhile, DeSantis’ support shrunk from 28 percent to 25 percent during this period.
“I think a lot of what he’s doing is showing everybody that he understands that I’ve got a good chance to beat him because he doesn’t criticize anybody else now,” DeSantis said. “It is only me.”