Press agencies withdraw edited photo published by Kensington Palace, fuelling conspiracies

Press agencies withdraw edited photo published by Kensington Palace, fuelling conspiracies

By: nikolaj kristensen&
March 11 2024

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 Press agencies withdraw edited photo published by Kensington Palace, fuelling conspiracies

Source: Kensington Palace

Several high-profile news agencies have withdrawn a family photo of a senior British royal over manipulation concerns in the U.K. 

The photo, showing Princess Catherine of Wales (frequently referred to as Kate) sitting on a chair surrounded by Princes George and Louis, and Princess Charlotte, was shared from the official social media channels of the Prince and Princess of Wales on Sunday, March 10, 2024, as a celebration of Mother’s Day in Britain. According to the posts, the photo was taken by Prince William.

Later that day, news agencies AP, AFP, Getty Images, and Reuters all withdrew the photo with explanations that it appeared to have been digitally altered. 

The image is the supposed first of Kate since she underwent abdominal surgery on January 16. The lack of public appearance has sparked conspiracy theories regarding the Princess’ health and whereabouts. 

Using the hashtag #WhereisKate, social media users are sharing conspiracy theories regarding the Princess’ whereabouts. (Source:X/TikTok/Screenshots)

In a statement, AP said they retracted the photo because "closer inspection revealed the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP’s photo standards," specifically pointing to an inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte’s left hand.

The sleeve on Princess Charlotte’s cardigan does not seem to align with her left hand. (Source: X/The Prince and Princess of Wales/Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

AFP added a note to the photo saying: "It has come to light that the Handout issued by Kensington Palace today of Kate and the kids had been altered, therefore it was withdrawn from AFP systems."

Reuters said in a statement the photo was withdrawn following a post-publication review with picture editors explaining that "part of the sleeve of Kate's daughter's cardigan did not line up properly, suggesting that the image had been altered."

Logically Facts has reached out to Kensington Palace for comment. After being redirected to their email address, we sent our inquiry, which has – at the time of publication – gone unanswered. 

On Monday, in a post (archived) on the official X account for The Prince and Princess of Wales, it was explained that the inconsistencies in the photo were due to Kate experimenting with image editing.


Logically Facts contacted AP, AFP, and Reuters for further clarification. AP referred to an article on their website explaining their reasoning for retracting the photo. The article says AP’s editorial standards state that images must be accurate and that AP does not use altered or digitally manipulated images. 

A Reuters spokesperson told Logically Facts, "The source of yesterday’s handout photo said that she has experimented with editing. The altered photo didn’t meet Reuters standards of image quality, and that is the reason we withdrew it yesterday."

AFP did not respond. 

Several inconsistencies

Apart from the sleeve mentioned by the news agencies, Logically Facts identified several other inconsistencies that suggest manipulation, among them the zipper on Kate’s jacket, tiles, and concrete in the background not lining up. 

The zipper on Kate’s jacket, tiles, and concrete in the background not aligning (Source: X/The Prince and Princess of Wales/Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

Logically Facts has asked experts on digital forensics and image generation to give their assessment of the photo’s authenticity. 

Mayank Vatsa, professor of computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, said the photo is digitally altered, but not a face swap deepfake; as in, Princess Kate’s face has not been added to the image using digital tools. 

"There are different regions which are locally blurred," he said as proof of the manipulation, pointing to Kate’s right hand, the area where Kate's head meets Prince George’s chin, and Princess Charlotte’s sleeve. "The zip area and few other areas have less blurriness - compared to the areas such as the hand where blurriness is causing the region to be more distinguishing towards alterations," he said.

Chirag Shah, a professor in data science at the University of Washington’s Information School, told Logically Facts, that it is reasonable for reputable news agencies to start withdrawing the image or put a disclaimer about its authenticity.

"We are seeing some indications of potential manipulations with this image. It’s unclear at this point if there is a reasonable explanation about a couple of those indicators where the image is manipulated. I think we need an explanation from the Palace at this point and without that, the default should be to mark this image as it is — manipulated," he said. 

Elaborating on what reasonable explanation there could be for the inconsistencies, he said: "There are some kinds of manipulations that are acceptable for truthfulness and journalistic needs — such as cropping and color balancing. The couple of odd things in this picture (e.g., daughter’s hand) are hard to explain as one of those acceptable manipulations."

Emboldening conspiracy narratives

Shah said that even before the inconsistencies were pointed out, he had discussed the photo’s authenticity with colleagues. 

"There was a certain amount of skepticism about the truthfulness of the image, but that skepticism was built on the social context surrounding the royal family," he said. 

And while the publication of the photo may have been an attempt by the royal family to calm the conspiracy theories regarding Princes Kate, the latest developments have only furthered them, said Michael Biddlestone, a conspiracy beliefs researcher at Cambridge University’s Social Decision-Making Lab. 

"Conspiracy theories thrive in times of uncertainty. Kate appears to be missing from the public eye, and this has raised many questions in the public consciousness that have remained unanswered for a surprisingly long time. The longer this silence goes on for, the easier it is for conspiracy narratives to gain traction by digging their hooks in before the official explanation has even been disseminated," he said.

"Unfortunately, this more recent photographic blunder has probably only emboldened conspiracy narratives that still don’t have a lot of evidence in support of their claims, bar perhaps prolonged suspicious silence from the royal family," said Biddlestone. 

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