Since the start of an intense bombing campaign by Israel on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the unprecedented attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7, there have been numerous demonstrations in various countries related to the conflict. In this context, an image has spread on social media claiming to show fans of the Spanish Atletico Madrid football team holding up a huge Palestinian flag at a match. However, the image contains several elements proving that it is not real and strongly suggesting it may have been created using artificial intelligence (AI).
Hamas militants stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7 and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of the raid, according to Israeli officials. Israel says around 1,500 Hamas fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack.
More than 8,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in relentless Israeli bombardments in retaliation for the attacks by the Palestinian Islamist militant group, according to an October 29 toll from the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has created a wave of misinformation on social networks.
In the wake of these events, an image began circulating in several languages on social networks on October 18 showing a stadium full of supporters unfurling a giant Palestinian flag. “Atletico Madrid”, writes a post in Greek on Facebook from October 19, 2023.
Screenshots of the false Facebook posts. Images captured: 20/10/2023
However, this photo is not real and has very likely been created using AI software, as shown by many of the details in the image. Furthermore, Atletico Madrid did not play any matches between October 16 and 19, so the claim that the photo dates from this period cannot be true.
An AI-generated image
A reverse image search led us to the earliest version of the image we could find posted on an X account called “Atletico Universe” on October 18, 2023. Only a Palestinian flag and a heart emoji accompany the image. The post was retweeted more than 19,000 times.
According to its description, this page on X publishes content dedicated to the Spanish team but does not appear to be officially affiliated with Atletico Madrid, which has its own page on X (archived link).
A close inspection of the image reveals details that show it is not real and which are typical of AI-generated content. We see, for example, deformed hands or elongated arms, as circled in the screenshot below.
Screenshot and close-up of the picture posted on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter. Yellow circles, lines and squares were added by AFP. Image captured: 20/10/2023
In addition, the lines of the penalty area do not meet in the fabricated image. And while the screen visible above the Palestinian flag does appear to show a logo similar to the current one of the club, it is missing the stars. In addition, the symbols around the shield are not legible.
Screenshot of the image posted on X, formerly Twitter. Yellow circles were added by AFP. Image captured: 20/20/2023
The posts claim the image is from Atletico Madrid’s stadium, the Civitas Metropolitano. However, it shows a square-shaped roof whereas the actual stadium has a rounded roof, as shown in the screenshot comparison below.
Screenshot comparison between the image posted on X, formerly Twitter (left), and a screenshot of the Atletico Madrid website showing the stadium (right). Yellow squares were added by AFP. Images captured: 20/20/2023
AFP contacted the “Atletico Universe” account, which originally posted the image, for comment but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Another X account in Arabic, entitled “The Atleti House”, also posted the image on October 18. The caption in Arabic reads: “Imaginary design for Atlético Madrid Palestinian flag fans at Civitas Metropolitano”.
When the post came out on October 18, Atletico Madrid had not played a match since October 8, when they beat Real Sociedad 2-1 in the Spanish La Liga championship (archived here). The match was played at the Civitas Metropolitano. Atletico’s next match was scheduled for October 21, against Celta Vigo (archived link).
A fan of Spanish second league team Eibar was sanctioned by the team on October 15 for unfurling a Palestinian flag, Spanish media reported (archived link). When the spectator refused to return the flag, he was reportedly escorted out of the stadium.