If you’ve been online over the past several days, you might’ve seen a photo of Pope Francis sporting a stylish white puffer jacket. It’s hard to ignore; the image of the 86-year-old sitting pontiff went viral. The whole vibe of the photo made him look hip and like he was walking off the fashion runway. But there’s one big caveat with this image. It’s not real. It’s an AI-generated photo made using the art tool Midjourney.
The image is incredibly convincing and had many people fooled. One of the biggest clues that the photo is fake—and it’s subtle—is the way in which the faux Pope is holding the cup in his right hand. AI is notoriously bad at rendering human hands, and this photo is no exception. But that small detail went unnoticed by many who didn’t realize it was fake until they learned otherwise.
AI-generated art has given anyone the opportunity to create their own images. If they can communicate it through text prompts, it can be produced. This photo is no different. The person who generated it is named Pablo Xavier. He’s a 31-year-old construction worker from the Chicago area. “I try to do funny stuff or trippy art—psychedelic stuff,” he explained of the image. “It just dawned on me: I should do the Pope. Then it was just coming like water: ‘The Pope in Balenciaga puffy coat, Moncler, walking the streets of Rome, Paris,’ stuff like that.”
Pablo generated the image on Friday, March 24, and then posted it to a Facebook group called AI Art Universe and later to Reddit. By Saturday, it was gaining momentum online; he was shocked at how quickly the image went viral. “I was just blown away,” he expressed. “I didn’t want it to blow up like that.” To him, it was “definitely scary” that people believed the image to be real without questioning its veracity.
This experience has been eye-opening for Pablo, particularly in the real impact that these fake images can have. “I didn’t even think about that [before],” he said. “It’s definitely going to get serious if they [governments] don’t start implementing laws to regulate it.
It’s a good lesson for us all as AI continues to become more intertwined with our daily lives. Digital literacy is something that we learn and continuously have to hone; the fake Pope and his puffy jacket are a good reminder that it’s best to be skeptical when you see something unbelievable online.
On Saturday, March 25, a photo of Pope Francis went viral—thanks in part to this tweet.
— leon (@skyferrori) March 25, 2023
Many people thought it was real and had funny reactions.
Are you wearing the…
“papal puffer parka? yes. I am.” pic.twitter.com/59corwNlCe
— Nick (@nicktotin) March 25, 2023
Abraham Lincoln when he saw the Pope’s drip pic.twitter.com/qdQaRjTUW6
— JaValle (@JaValle) March 25, 2023
Let’s get us this day our daily bread https://t.co/r6iEij1FGf
— Patrick Monahan (@pattymo) March 25, 2023
Pope X Moncler dropped. https://t.co/EcB0FSQCrM
— Present & Correct (@presentcorrect) March 25, 2023
Dope francis https://t.co/HAtE1MoCxD
— Ibayan (@ivnpsn) March 26, 2023
I am afraid to inform you that the Pope has acquired the drip https://t.co/K9wg3nNxwg
— Álvaro Silva 🇦🇶📕🌾 (@AlvaroSilva1906) March 25, 2023
Our father, who drip in heaven https://t.co/O5Tt9bwZxM
— Richard Nevels 🏁 (@Richie_l0c0) March 25, 2023
forgive me father for i have slayed https://t.co/hPEJB9cC17
— La tía Negra ☭ (@UruKurtz) March 26, 2023
breaking news: papa is the new rihanna’s backup dancer https://t.co/OaFru3Isya
— rena ☽ (@renata_santos79) March 25, 2023
The image was later revealed to be fake. Chrissy Teigen's sentiment is relatable:
I thought the pope’s puffer jacket was real and didnt give it a second thought. no way am I surviving the future of technology
— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) March 26, 2023