A fake image purporting to show an explosion near the Pentagon was shared by multiple verified Twitter accounts on Monday, causing confusion and leading to a brief dip in the stock market. Local officials later confirmed no such incident had occurred.
The image, which bears all the hallmarks of being generated by artificial intelligence, was shared by numerous verified accounts with blue check marks, including one that falsely claimed it was associated with Bloomberg News.
“Large explosion near the Pentagon complex in Washington DC. – initial report,” the account posted, along with an image purporting to show black smoke rising near a large building.
The account has since been suspended by Twitter. It was unclear who was behind the account or where the image originated. A spokesperson for Bloomberg News said the account is not affiliated with the news organization.
Under owner Elon Musk, Twitter has allowed anyone to obtain a verified account in exchange for a monthly payment. As a result, Twitter verification is no longer an indicator that an account represents who it claims to represent.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
The false reports of the explosion also made their way to air on a major Indian television network. Republic TV reported that an explosion had taken place, showing the fake image on its air and citing reports from the Russian news outlet RT. It later retracted the report when it became clear the incident had not taken place.
“Republic had aired news of a possible explosion near the Pentagon citing a post & picture tweeted by RT,” the outlet later posted on its Twitter account. “RT has deleted the post and Republic has pulled back the newsbreak.”
In a statement Tuesday, the RT press office said, “As with fast-paced news verification, we made the public aware of reports circulating and once provenance and veracity were ascertained, we took appropriate steps to correct the reporting.”
In a post on the Russian social media platform VKontakte Tuesday, RT tried to make light of its apparent error.
“Is the Pentagon on fire? Look, there’s a picture and everything. It’s not real, it’s just an AI generated image. Still, this picture managed to fool several major news outlets full of clever and attractive people, allegedly,” a post from RT read.
In the moments after the image began circulating on Twitter, the US stock market took a noticeable dip. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 80 points between 10:06 a.m. and 10:10 a.m., fully recovering by 10:13 a.m. Similarly, the broader S&P 500 went from up 0.02% at 10:06 a.m. to down 0.15% at 10:09 a.m.. By 10:11 a.m., the index was positive again.
The building in the image does not closely resemble the Pentagon and, according to experts, shows signs it may have been created using AI.
“This image shows typical signs of being AI-synthesized: there are structural mistakes on the building and fence that you would not see if, for example, someone added smoke to an existing photo,” Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and digital forensic expert told CNN.
The fire department in Arlington, Virginia, later responded in a tweet, stating that it and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency were “aware of a social media report circulating online about an explosion near the Pentagon. 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.”
– CNN’s David Goldman contributed reporting.