IN SHORT: Artificial intelligence may lead to exciting innovation, but it also has a dark side. It’s been used to generate images of children taking part in “satanic education rituals” which are spreading on social media in South Africa. But these images don’t show reality.
In May 2023, a series of images were circulated on social media in South Africa appearing to show young children in a library, surrounded by satanic imagery.
In the images, the children appear on a library floor, sitting around a pentagram, the five-pointed star often associated with the occult, being read to by demonic-looking figures or wearing costumes and horns.
One of the posts warned: “Satan isn’t hiding anymore.”
Baphomet is the name of an invented idol or deity, often associated with Satanism.
Another, posted by a member of local political party the African Christian Democratic Party, raised alarm about Satanism in the South African education system.
“Parents you need to protect your children!” it said.
But on closer inspection, it’s clear the images are not photographs of children taking part in satanic rituals. Here’s why.
‘The children are not real, this never happened’ – creator
Many of the images include a line of text that reads “The Pumpkin Empress”.
We traced this name back to social media accounts that posted the same photos in early May on Tiktok, Facebook and Instagram. These accounts have also posted similar imagery usually associated with Satanism, often including children.
An edited description of the original Facebook post with the images from 2 May reads: “I created these pics with AI software. The children are not real, this never happened.”
Midjourney is one of the most popular tools using artificial intelligence (AI) to create photo-realistic scenes like these.
With this kind of image generation, the AI tool, which has been trained on a large database of images from the internet, creates an entirely new image based on a piece of text, or “prompt”.
In a 9 May post, to address how widely the images were thought to be real, The Pumpkin Empress explained how they had been generated and included a screenshot to illustrate this.
The text prompt for one of the images was “children sitting on a carpet with a pentagram in a library”.
Though AI image generators are likely to make fewer errors as the technology advances, there are, for now, often clues in the images themselves that they are not real.
Some of these errors in this set of images are especially visible when the images are enlarged or zoomed in on. For example, many of the children shown have varying numbers of fingers like here and here, or have warped or missing body and facial features, such as here.
These are clues to the observant social media user that you shouldn’t believe all you see and that these images aren’t proof of “satanic education rituals”.
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