No, the Pentagon Didn't Blow Up Monday

But eerily realistic fake explosion pic, perhaps created by AI, circulated online, shook up stocks
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2023 1:00 AM CDT
No, the Pentagon Didn't Blow Up Monday
The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington on March 2, 2022.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Most of the tweets on the OSINTdefender Twitter account, which bills itself as an "open source intelligence monitor," have focused lately on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A post on Monday morning, however, set off alarms closer to home, after a phony image circulated on social media depicting what appeared to be an explosion at the Pentagon. The photo—which showed a huge plume of black smoke near the Department of Defense's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC—was tweeted not only by the OSINTdefender account, which cited "initial reports" of the explosion, but also by a since-suspended yet verified account pretending it was the Bloomberg Twitter feed, as well as by Russian state media outlet RT, reports Politico.

Arlington Fire & EMS soon dismissed that there'd been any type of blast in the vicinity. "There is NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation, and there is no immediate danger or hazards to the public," the department tweeted around 10:30am ET; the AP contacted the department directly to make sure that tweet was authentic. Politico notes it's not clear who created the photo, or how it was made. But eagle-eyed Twitter users were quick to zoom in and point out tiny things that seemed off in the photo. Such imperfections have led misinformation and digital forensics pros to believe the image was likely produced using some sort of generative artificial intelligence program.

"Specifically, the grass and concrete fade into each other, the fence is irregular, there is a strange black pole that is protruding out of the front of the sidewalk but is also part of the fence," Hany Farid, a computer science professor at the University of California-Berkeley, tells the AP. "The windows in the building are inconsistent with photos of the Pentagon that you can find online." What wasn't fake about the morning's commotion: how the phony photo "briefly spooked stocks," per (the real) Bloomberg. A little after 10am ET, right as the image was making its rounds, the S&P 500 took a short dip of about 0.3%, though it quickly bounced back after it was revealed the image was fake, which the OSINTdefender Twitter account later confirmed. (More Pentagon stories.)

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