As the technology around deepfakes and artificial intelligence grew, experts warned about how they may be used to manipulate political discourse in upcoming elections.
That barrier has been breached several times, but perhaps never more blatantly than this week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) campaign released a video of former President Donald Trump hugging former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose response to the COVID-19 pandemic made him a right-wing boogeyman.
“Donald Trump became a household name by FIRING countless people *on television* But when it came to Fauci…” the tweet said, with a video of Trump’s past statements about not firing Fauci during the COVID pandemic.
Included in the video, under the banner “real-life Trump,” were images of Trump hugging Fauci.
The message of the video was that Trump, who touts firing people left and right, did not take this action against someone who, in many Republicans’ opinions, did more damage to the country than the actual pandemic.
DeSantis has leaned hard into Trump’s response to the COVID pandemic as a difference between the two, claiming that while Trump kowtowed to deep state fears of the virus, DeSantis valiantly kept Florida open.
But the fact that the images were created by AI generated swift backlash from Trump supporters and other people in right-wing media circles.
“I was 55/45 for Trump/DeSantis. Now I’m 0% for DeSantis. Using AI images to smear Trump is a hard fuck you,” wrote vlogger Tim Pool.
“Hey @elonmusk We know you like @RonDeSantis. But are you really going to allow them to get away with using AI to generate and post fake and politically misleading images of President Trump embracing and kissing Fauci?” asked Laura Loomer.
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) was similarly furious at the DeSantis team.
“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,” he wrote.
It’s unclear who may have been fooled by the images. Although history recedes, almost no one would recall a time when Trump embraced Fauci literally or figuratively.
Twitter’s Community Notes feature swiftly appended the image, noting that Trump technically did not have the authority to fire Fauci.
Trump fans furious about the ad may want to look inward.
As DeSantis’ director of rapid response Christina Pushaw tweeted, Trump has done it himself to DeSantis.
However, an AI-generated picture of DeSantis riding a rhinoceros to accuse him of being a Republican In Name Only (RINO) is more obviously fake than photos of Trump cheek-to-cheek with Fauci.
The DeSantis’ War Room account, for its part, seemed to embrace the controversy.