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- The photos of LeBron James wearing pink were generated by artificial intelligence
Online images, seemingly plucked from the "Barbie" movie marketing campaign, show basketball star LeBron James dressed in a pink skirt or pink shorts. The outfit caught the attention of many social media users who claimed he was on his way to watch the premiere of the new "Barbie" movie.
"LeBron is ready to watch ‘Barbie,’" claims a post in Spanish.
The post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
This is not the first time social media users have shared altered photos to ridicule James. In April, an image of the Los Angeles Lakers star wearing a longer skirt circulated on Twitter with text that claimed he was dressed to celebrate his daughter Zhuri’s birthday.
"10/10 ... a must watch film," one of the posts claims James said about the "Barbie" film, which opened July 21. The claim came from a Twitter parody account with a profile that says, "Nothing Tweeted Should Be Taken As Fact."
Artificial-intelligence experts pointed to details such as uneven wrinkling in James’ face, the poorly formed logo on his T-shirt, his oddly shaped fingernails and background distortions to signal the pink skirt James photo was generated by AI.
In an email, Valerie Wirtschafter, senior data analyst in the Brookings Institution’s Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies Initiative, said that the audience may not recognize that photos like these are fake and may keep circulating them online. The images were shared across audiences of multiple social media platforms.
Lindsay Gorman, a senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy, said other image details — the plants’ overtly smooth texture and James’ paintlike skin tone — are giveaways that the image is AI-generated.
Gorman added that two more said other good indicators of AI generation are the blurred laces and missing logo on James’ sneakers and his hands.
"So, if you actually zoom in on LeBron's hands, there, his fingers are really abnormally large and almost, almost alienlike,'' Gorman said in an interview.
Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, agreed with Gorman that AI-generated photos have obvious flaws.
"For instance," Caulfield said in an email, "LeBron famously has two tattoos on his calves that say ‘history’ and ‘witness’ -- here we have only weird scrawls. Text tends to be a real weakness of these AI programs."
Wirtschafter, meanwhile, said answering some questions can help people better detect whether the images they are seeing online are artificially generated:
Does the background have any deformed or distorted objects?
Do the details seem fully formed or warped?
Compared with other images depicting the same thing, is there any slight difference to use as a reference point?
How does the image depict difficult-to-render appendages like ears or fingers?
What is the image grain like? Is it smooth? Is it fuzzy?
Wirtschafter said artificial intelligence is raising more concerns as its models get more sophisticated and better at hiding digital flaws. She suggested that artificially generated images carry a "watermark" to help people differentiate them from authentic images, or the inverse, to avoid spreading the fakes.
Several images circulating on social media claim that Lebron James is dressed in pink for the "Barbie" movie premiere.
These images are all generated with artificial intelligence, PolitiFact found no evidence that James wore that outfit.
We rate this claim False.
CORRECTION, July 28: We’ve updated this fact-check to clarify a comment from Valerie Wirtschafter.
Email Interview with Valerie Wirtschafter, enior data analyst in the Brookings Institution’s Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies Initiative, July 26, 2023
Phone Interview with Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy, , July 27, 2023
Email interview with Mike Caulfield, research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, July 27, 2023
Facebook Post, July 21, 2023
Twitter Post, July 24, 2023
Twitter post, July 21, 2023
DNB Stories, "Pictures of LeBron James’ Pink Skirt – Real or Fake?" April 1, 2023
TechTarget, "What is generative AI? Everything you need to know," accessed July 26, 2023
Forbes, "Databricks acquires MosaicML to make generative AI more accessible," June 26, 2023
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