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Fake - scandalous viral image of Pope Francis kissing US musician Madonna created with artificial intelligence tool

IN SHORT: An image posted widely appears to show Pope Francis, the world leader of the Roman Catholic church, kissing US musician Madonna. But the image has been generated using artificial intelligence tools.

An image doing the rounds on Facebook appears to show Pope Francis, the world leader of the Roman Catholic church, kissing and grabbing the breast of US musician Madonna.

The image was posted on Facebook with the caption: “Pope Francis and Madonna exchanging greetings. Don't panic, ni salamu tu...I think.”

The Kiswahili part of this translates as: “This is just greetings.”

The user has posted the image on his timeline as well as in several groups with thousands of members here and here.

Other users have also posted the image here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Catholic priests and nuns take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are therefore expected to uphold celibacy. Francis was ordained a priest in 1969 and took these vows.

But is the image real or AI generated? We took a closer look.


Image possibly AI generated

Such an image of a respected religious world leader would, if real, have been published by multiple trustworthy media sources. 

But Africa Check scoured the internet for the image and came up empty – except for instances where it appeared on social media. The absence of photos or images on trustworthy websites could hint they are AI generated.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, uses complex computer algorithms to perform some tasks otherwise done by humans. One such task is creating images from scratch based on simple instructions.

There are a few signs the image could have been generated by AI tools. (For tips on spotting AI-generated images and videos, see Africa Check’s guide.)

A keen look at the image reveals strange inconsistencies. For instance, a lock of Madonna’s hair appears to have merged with her ear. This makes the ear look unnatural as it has no earlobe.  She looks quite different in a recent photo from Associated Press. 

We also noted that the pope’s thumb in the image seems to have melted into the skin of Madonna’s breast. AI image generators are known to struggle recreating some body parts, particularly hands and fingers.

To be sure, Africa Check ran the image through five AI image detectors.

The AI image detector Hive Moderation concluded that there was a 99.5% likelihood it was AI-generated. Is it AI? gave a 92.37% likelihood, Illuminarty 87.9%, Content at Scale 63% and Hugging Face also posting 63%.

This image is likely AI-generated, and there is no evidence Pope Francis was caught on camera kissing the musician Madonna.

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