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Was there an explosion near the Pentagon?

An image of black smoke billowing next to a bureaucratic-looking building spread across social media Monday morning, with claims it showed an explosion near the Pentagon.

The messages sent a brief chill through the stock market and were quickly picked up by news outlets outside the United States, before officials stepped in to clarify that no explosion actually took place and that the photo was a fake.

Experts say the viral image showed telltale signs of AI-generated tampering, and its popularity underscores the daily chaos that these now increasingly sophisticated and easy-to-access programs can inflict.

Here’s a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: An image shows an explosion near the Pentagon.

FACTS: Police and firefighters in Arlington, Va., say the image is not real and there have been no incidents at the US Department of Defense headquarters across the Potomac since the national capital.

Despite this, the image and claim were carried by outlets including RT, a Russian government-backed media company formerly known as Russia Today. It was also widely shared in investment circles, including an account with Twitter’s signature blue verification checkmark that incorrectly suggested it was associated with Bloomberg News.

“Reports of an explosion near the Pentagon in Washington DC,” the Russian state news agency wrote in a since-deleted tweet to its more than three million followers.

The timing of the misrepresentation, which appeared to spread widely just after the US stock market opened at 9:30 a.m., was enough to send ripples through the investing world.

The S&P 500 briefly fell a modest 0.3% as social media accounts and investment websites popular with day traders repeated the false claims.

Other investments have also moved in a way that usually happens when fear enters the market. The prices of US Treasuries and gold, for example, briefly started to climb, suggesting that investors were looking for a safer place to park their money.

The image’s rapid spread prompted the Arlington County Fire Department to take to social media to bust the rumors.

“@PFPAOfficial and the ACFD are aware of a social media report circulating online regarding an explosion near the Pentagon,” the agency wrote, referring to the acronym for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency which controls the Pentagon. “There are NO explosions or incidents occurring in or near the Pentagon stockpile, and there is no immediate danger or danger to the public.”

Capt. Nate Hiner, spokesman for the fire department, confirmed the agency’s tweet was genuine but declined to comment further, deferring to Pentagon police forces, who did not respond to emails. and telephone messages.

Disinformation experts say the fake image was likely created using generative artificial intelligence programs, which have recently allowed increasingly realistic, but often flawed, visuals to flood the internet.

Inconsistencies in the building, fence and surrounding area are imperfections commonly found in AI-generated images, noted Hany Farid, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in digital forensics, disinformation and image analysis.

“Specifically, the grass and concrete blend into each other, the fence is uneven, there’s a weird black post that sticks out from the front of the sidewalk but is also part of the fence,” he wrote in an email. “The building’s windows do not match the Pentagon photos you can find online.”

Chirag Shah, co-director of the Center for Responsibility in AI Systems & Experiences at the University of Washington in Seattle, cautioned that spotting counterfeits won’t always be so obvious.

The company will need to rely more on “crowdsourcing and community vigilance to weed out bad information and get to the truth” as AI technology improves, he argued.

“Simply using scouting tools or social media posts won’t be enough,” Shah wrote in an email.

Before the explosion hoax, Beltway’s biggest intrigue on Wall Street’s mind Monday morning was whether the US government will avoid a disastrous default on its debt.

But as the market becomes increasingly responsive to headline-grabbing news, misinformation can be particularly damaging when shared by even vaguely credible outlets, said Adam Kobeissi, editor-in-chief of The Kobeissi. Letter, an industry publication.

“A lot of these moves are happening because of high-frequency trading, algorithmic trading, which basically takes the headlines, synthesizes them and then breaks them down into a millisecond trade,” he explained over the phone, noting that ‘much of the market is now automated. “It’s like pulling the trigger every time a title comes out.”


Associated Press business reporters Stan Choe and Wyatte Grantham-Philips in New York contributed to this story.


This is part of AP’s efforts to combat widely shared misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP

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