Greek digital artwork shared as a real photo from Turkey quake

A digitally created image showing a Greek firefighter holding a girl has been widely shared on social media in Greece following the devastating February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Many users believed it was a photograph taken from the disaster zone and showed a Greek fireman rescuing a Turkish girl. But this is not true. The creator of the digital image said he made it to pay tribute to the Greek rescue teams sent to Turkey after the disaster.

Greece is among a host of countries that sent rescuers to the scene of the earthquake, described by the World Health Organization as the “worst natural disaster” in 100 years in its Europe region. A first team of 21 specialised rescue workers from the Special Disaster Response Unit (EMAK) was despatched immediately after the earthquake.

In their honour, a social media user created a digital image of a rescue worker whose helmet shows the Greek flag and the intials EMAK. He is holding a girl with a Turkish flag on the sleeve of her shirt. The image circulated widely on social networks in Greece.

Some social media users appeared to believe it was a real photograph from the disaster scene. “EMAK RESCUER HOLDING THE CHILD HE SAVED,” said this Facebook post on February 12, 2023. Other Greek posts, such as on Facebook here and Twitter here, said the image should be “photo of the year”.

Some social media users who believed this was a real photo used the image to comment on political tensions between Greece and Turkey, for example on Facebook here and in English and German on Instagram here.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post captured on 14/02/2023

Five fingers and a thumb

Close observation of the image gives some clues that it is not a photograph. Besides the hazy quality, in the image posted on February 12 the rescuer is shown as having five fingers as well as a thumb on his right hand, as circled below in red.

Screenshot (14/02/2023) of the misleading Facebook post. The red circle was added by AFP

This did not stop people from sharing this image as a genuine photo, a phenomenon that draw wide comment in the Greek media. In an article entitled “How did so many people fall for the fake photo of the EMAK rescuer?” online magazine LiFO said the creator likely used Photoshop and an artificial intelligence tool called AI Midjourney.

Midjourney is among a series of programs that use a new type of artificial intelligence known as generative AI to create images from text descriptions by scraping from billions of images on the internet. The images can astonishingly detailed and realistic — except for how they create hands, as reported by BuzzFeed and BBC Science Focus.

A reverse image search allowed us to find the creator of this picture. It was posted on February 8 by someone who says he is a retired fire brigade general on his Facebook profile. “To honour my colleagues who are doing their best to rescue those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey, I made this picture,” he said. His profile shows other digital images. The picture was updated on the same day, according to the edit history in the Facebook post. In the version now visible the extra finger has been removed, as shown below.

The image of the fireman with the girl was was also posted by Madonna on her Instagram account (an archived version of the post is available here) together with an appeal for donations. Her post does not suggest the image is a photograph.

Greek aid to Turkey

The EMAK unit sent to the disaster area returned to Greece on February 12. They found five survivors under the rubble, according to a press statement from the unit.

AFP has investigated a series of posts on social media that give false or misleading information about the earthquake and its aftermath, such as a claim that the earthquake caused a tsunami or an explosion at a nuclear plant.

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Author(s): Théophile BLOUDANIS, AFP Greece

Originally published here.