The presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has posted fake images, created by artificial intelligence (AI), that show former President Donald Trump hugging and kissing his former chief medical advisor and COVID-19 response team member Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The images appear in a 45-second video published by the DeSantis War Room Twitter account. The video criticizes Trump’s embrace of Fauci during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci advocated public shutdowns, mask-wearing, and vaccinations — community-wide measures that angered conservatives. As governor, DeSantis issued orders against all of those measures in his state as the epidemic raged. Florida now ranks third among states with the highest level of COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
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The video begins with dramatic music and footage of Trump repeating his trademark phrase, “You’re fired,” while eliminating contestants from his competitive business-themed reality show, The Apprentice. The music then shifts to a gentle toy piano — the kind played by numerous baby toys — as Trump calls Fauci “a wonderful guy” and repeatedly explains that he couldn’t fire Fauci during his presidency because it would’ve created a “firestorm” on the left.
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Around the video’s 25-second mark, a collage of photos includes three images: two of Trump hugging Fauci and one of Trump kissing Fauci on his left eye. (Yes. His left eye.)
The technology website The Verge pointed out that, in the image of Trump kissing Fauci, the positioning of their faces is unnatural. Additionally, the text on the White House seal in the background is rendered in a non-sensical, almost Cyrillic-seeming alphabet. Similar text errors commonly occur in AI-created images since AI software has difficulty recreating legible text.
Furthermore, the aforementioned publication noted that it was unable to find any of the three images of the men embracing using a Google reverse image search.
The DeSantis War Room Twitter account was launched by DeSantis’ political aide Christina Pushaw, a woman who worked closely with right-wing media outlets to defend DeSantis’ infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law. Pushaw said that anyone who opposed the law is a pedophile. Her rhetoric has been repeated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting drag events and school board meetings.
DeSantis’ campaign refused to answer whether the images were created via AI. However, Twitter has since included a note below the video stating that they were.
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) condemned DeSantis’ ad on Twitter, writing, “Smearing Donald Trump with fake AI images is completely unacceptable. I’m not sharing them, but we’re in a new era. Be even more skeptical of what you see on the internet.” Trump endorsed Vance during his 2022 Senate campaign.
Trump has already shared AI-generated “deepfake” videos mocking gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and DeSantis.
Last week, AI-generated images surfaced of Trump and former President Barack Obama both separately kissing men in hotel rooms. Their creator, pro-LGBTQ+ satirist Justin T. Brown, said he generated images to demonstrate how AI technology can create political misinformation to affect future election outcomes.