The original photo on the left captures a scene in Havana during a light rain, viewed through a bus window on a sweltering afternoon. In contrast, the photo on the right was digitally altered using filters, resulting in an illustration that clearly deviates from reality. Despite my discomfort, I felt compelled to create and share this photo illustration, as my conscience demanded an explanation.
The length of this explanation itself reflects the level of unease I experienced while manipulating reality. As a staunch believer in representing truth in photography, I adhere to the principles instilled in me as a journalist. There exists an unwritten agreement between the viewer and the photojournalist, wherein we pledge to document reality as accurately as possible, enabling us to act as their eyes and ears in situations they cannot physically witness.
Behind every published photograph of mine, I carefully evaluate moral and ethical considerations, guided by a lifetime commitment to journalistic integrity and an internal compass that points towards truth, fairness, and overall goodness. This is deeply ingrained in me, shaped by my upbringing and nature. These aspects comprise my conscience, which is precisely where the dilemma arises when it comes to AI-generated images, as they lack a conscience of their own.
The significance of this issue has escalated alarmingly, as AI-generated images have already caused tangible harm in the real world. Therefore, before blindly sharing or disseminating content, it is crucial to adopt a cautious approach:
- Slow down and evaluate the content and its source.
- Do not assume everything you encounter is true.
- Seek information from multiple reputable sources.
- Exercise discernment and refrain from spreading news, photos, or any combination thereof without confirming their authenticity.
A case in point: On May 22nd, 2023, a series of images allegedly depicting an explosion at the Pentagon circulated on social media, resulting in a stock market dip. However, it was later revealed that these images and accompanying information were fabricated [Link: https://bit.ly/3MychJ8].
This incident should not be taken lightly, as even though the manipulation was detected relatively swiftly, there were real losses incurred. Imagine the potential catastrophic consequences if a hostile state, interest groups, or malicious hackers orchestrated a large-scale campaign of misinformation, employing AI-generated images to distort public perception across various domains.
This scenario is reminiscent of post-apocalyptic novels, where another market crash akin to those in 1929 or 2008 could become a reality. AI-generated images possess the ability to deceive and wreak havoc in the real world. The most disconcerting aspect is that, nowadays, the average person tends to accept such images or stories at face value without questioning their source, without taking the time to critically evaluate the information presented.
“A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”
– Mark Twain.
It is likely that those who believed the alleged images of the Pentagon in flames were genuine were ordinary individuals who failed to pause and ponder: “Why are there no emergency vehicles in these photos?” or “Curious, these buildings do not resemble the Pentagon.”
Professionals like us have a crucial role to play in this new reality. We can either contribute to the solution or become part of the problem. We possess the power to inform. Let us not forget the age-old adage, “With power comes responsibility.” Our power lies in delivering accurate information to the public, empowering them to make educated, intelligent decisions. As professional storytellers, we bear the responsibility of safeguarding our audience by presenting verifiable, genuine information through our words and visuals. We must consistently act ethically and responsibly when showcasing or publishing our work.
The fundamental principles I learned in Journalism Writing 101 remain as relevant today as ever: Stick to the 5 Ws of journalism
Stick to the 5 Ws of journalism: Who, what, when, where, and why.
There are no gray areas in this regard.
When it comes to our photographs, we must never allow the line between reality and fantasy to blur, not even slightly. There is no middle ground! We are either capturing reality in its purest form or creating an illustration, which is essentially a work of fiction.
P.S: I received an email from my friend Neal Skorka in Boston, who shared the original AI-generated photo story with me. After following thus link and after I conducted additional research on three reputable news aggregate sites that I regularly follow, I made the decision to share this story with you.