Heavy rains in early September 2023 caused deadly flooding in Thessaly in central Greece, leaving residents in some towns without drinking water and triggering queues for bottled water. In the wake of this natural disaster, posts on social networks shared an image generated by artificial intelligence (AI) claiming or implying that it was a real photo showing queues for water in the port city of Volos. This image is in fact the product of Midjourney AI software, as its author confirmed to AFP.
With pumping stations and a large part of the supply network damaged, water shortages hit towns such as Volos, as AFP reported on September 9. Greek media reported here, here and here that residents formed queues for bottled water.
In the wake of this natural disaster, posts began sharing an image that appeared to show two long queues on a road in a town and claiming or implying that it was a photo taken in Volos.
A Facebook post from September 9, shared about 60 times, reads: “And yet they are not PRISONERS in some war camp!!!! They are queues of people in 2023 in Volos to get some water!”
Screenshots of the misleading Facebook post (left) and the misleading X post (right). Images capture: 13/09/2023
Archaeologist Despoina Koutsoumba, president of the Association of Greek Archaeologists and regional councillor for Attica, posted the image on her X (ex-Twitter) feed, alongside real images of the floods.
An image created with the Midjourney program
A reverse image search enabled us to find the image posted on a Facebook account entitled “Jo Di” on September 8. The image caption reads: “Three long queues have formed across the country. First, those in the affected areas waiting to buy overpriced six-packs of water, those running to renew their identity cards in time to escape the “chip” and those running to get their one-way ticket to leave “Ragiadistan” once and for all… (Photo is an AI creation)”.
The author of the photo mentions the renewal of identity cards in Greece: the Greek government announced in early September that the procedure to obtain new identity cards would begin on September 25. “Ragiadistan” is a term used by Greeks complaining about the poor state of their country.
The post’s edit history shows that the mention “(Photo is an AI creation)” was added on September 10.
The user also indicated in the comments of his post that it is an AI-generated image.
On his website entitled “jodi.graphics”, the author states that he has “had an amateur interest in graphic design and the internet for many years”.
Contacted on Facebook by AFP on September 13, “Jo Di” confirmed that the image was AI-generated with the help of the Midjourney, an image generation program using artificial intelligence.
“The addition of the label that this was an AI image was made after I realised that this image was being misleadingly used by other internet users,” he wrote.
A closer look enables us to see some of the imperfections that can indicate an image has been created by AI. For example, we can see that the feet of the people in the distance have faded away, as shown below:
Screenshots, with detail, of the AI picture posted by Jo Di. Red squares and lines were added by AFP. Images capture: 13/09/2023
MidJourney is accessible via a messaging platform called Discord. The image creator sent AFP screenshots from Discord showing the image as well as the text instruction or “prompt” that he used to generate it. It reads: “A professional photograph of two long queues, one to the airport and the second to the police station in Greece, unsplash, associated press photo –ar 3:4”. The AI image generator tries to create images that match the description provided by the user.
Screenshot from discord sent by Jo Di on September 14, 2023
Thanks to the “prompt” the author shared with AFP, we were able to generate images very similar to the one circulating online via Midjourney:
AI-generated images produced by AFP using MidJourney on September 13, 2023, using the same commands used by Jo Di site to create the image circulating online. Watermark added by AFP
Like the image shared on social networks, the ones generated by AFP appear authentic at first glance. But closer examination reveals that they also contain unusual details, such as the erasure of people’s feet.
AFP has in the past verified AI-generated images that have circulated online, such as the image of a firefighter holding a child after the earthquake in Turkey or an image of Julian Assange in prison.