News outlets publish AI-generated image of rescue officials at Uttarakhand tunnel collapse site

By: Rajini KG
November 29 2023

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News outlets publish AI-generated image of rescue officials at Uttarakhand tunnel collapse site

The viral image was shared by Indian agency National Disaster Management Authority on its X account and republished by news outlets. (Source: X/The New Indian Express/Screenshots)


The Verdict Fake

An X user who first shared this image, which has several distortions, has clarified on their social media account that it is an AI-generated image.

Claim ID a5b3df71


Seventeen days after an under-construction tunnel collapsed in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, 41 construction workers trapped inside were rescued on November 28, putting an end to a 400-hour rescue operation.

A day later, an image surfaced online claiming to show the officials who spearheaded the rescue operation posing for a group photograph with the Indian flag. The official account of the National Disaster Management Authority, which works under the aegis of the Indian government, shared this picture along with a photo of the rescued workers.

This image has also been used by news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) in a report about the rescue efforts (archived here). The image was soon republished by several Indian news outlets, including The New Indian Express, Mathrubhumi, NorthEast Live, News 18. This image was also shared on X (formerly Twitter), in some instances without a caption (archived here). AIADMK leader and former Tamil Nadhu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (archive here), and Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw (archive here) also shared the image. 

The image swiftly went viral on other social media platforms as well. 

Screenshot of the viral image published by news outlets and social media users. (Source: The New Indian Express/Times of India/India Today/Modified by Logically Facts)

However, this image is AI-generated, and is not an actual photograph of the rescue officials. 

Here are the facts

A closer look at the image revealed many discrepancies, suggesting the image was digitally manipulated. The faces, especially the region around the eyes, seem distorted, and some people captured in the image have more than five fingers — an indication that the image is artificially generated. It is widely known that artificial intelligence applications struggle with getting the number of fingers on humans accurately, and this helped us identify that the image was digitally created.

Evident distortions in the image indicate it is artificially generated (Source: X/Screenshot/Modified by Logically Facts)

We also noticed a watermark labeled "Exclusive Minds" on one X post that had shared the viral image. We found the original image was shared on the X account of "@Exclusive_Minds."

This account describes itself as a "citizens' collective fighting against misinformation and misleading content on social media." It had also shared other images depicting the rescue officials and in a reply to a thread of posts containing these images, the user has clearly stated, "Disclaimer: It's an AI Generated photo."

Screenshot of the response by X user 'Exclusive Minds.' (Source: X/Screebshot)

While we have not been able to verify if the images were created by this user, the above evidence shows that the image is AI-generated and has been shared as an actual photo of the officials who rescued 41 workers from the collapsed under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand.

A senior member from PTI’s editorial team told us that the viral image was taken from credible sources, including a parliamentarian's social media handle. The source added, “We will be more careful while sourcing images, even from credible sources.”

The verdict

Several news outlets shared an AI-generated image as an actual photograph of officials who helped rescue the 41 workers from the collapsed under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand, posing with the Indian national flag. Therefore, we mark this claim as fake.

(Update: The story has been updated to add a response from the Press Trust of India.)

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