Fake photo of Pope in stylish puffer coat goes viral, takes the world for a ride

The AI-generated photo shows Pope Francis in a very white, very puffy and very large winter coat, with a steel cross hanging across his chest. PHOTO: MIDJOURNEY/REDDIT

An AI-generated photo of Pope Francis in a gigantic white puffer coat has gone viral on social media, sowing confusion and surprise and fooling not a few celebrities and influencers.

The photo showed the pontiff – head of the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic Church – in a very white, very puffy and very large winter coat, with a steel cross hanging across his chest.

Many of those who saw it were surprised to see the sudden shift in papal haberdashery. Others were confused.

Some did wonder whether the image was real, as his right hand, which was holding something, seemed a bit off.

But it looked real enough to fool celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

“I thought the Pope’s puffer jacket was real and didn’t give it a second thought. No way am I surviving the future of technology,” she tweeted.

Far-right commentator and conspiracy wonk Ian Miles Cheong wrote on Twitter: “The Pope is a fashion icon. Respect the drip”, using hip-hop slang for “stylish”.

Professor Don Moynihan, an Irish-American political scientist at Georgetown University, tweeted: “What would be the name of the Pope Francis lifestyle brand?”

The photorealistic image was created by Midjourney, the company behind an artificial intelligence app that can generate deceptively realistic photos.

It was first shared on Reddit before it made its way to Twitter on the weekend, where it went viral as the online fashion mob chimed in.

One widely shared version of the “Pope looking dope”, posted by Twitter user Nikita S, had the caption: “The boys in Brooklyn could only hope for this level of drip”. That one already has close to 20 million views.

Twitter has started informing its users with a label that the photo of Pope Francis in the wild, white coat “is an AI-generated picture and not real”.

This was not the first time one of Midjourney’s creations escaped into the wild and stirred a sensation.

It was used to generate a fake photo of former United States president Donald Trump being ganged up on and forcibly arrested by a posse of New York policemen.

AI image generators such as Midjourney, and OpenAI’s Dall-E and Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion use millions of images they scoop out of the Internet to create realistic-looking photos and fantastical artworks.

Most of these images, though, are protected by copyright.

Getty Images, a distributor of stock and archived photos, is already suing Stability AI for copyright violations.

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