Fact Check: FAKE Image Showing Putin 'Stability' Billboard Surrounded By Flames Is AI Generated

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: FAKE Image Showing Putin 'Stability' Billboard Surrounded By Flames Is AI Generated AI-Generated

Is this an authentic March, 2024 photo, showing flames billowing behind a President Vladimir Putin re-election billboard that reads "stability" in Russian? No, that's not true: The image was computer-generated, according to tools created to detect AI art. Earlier versions of posts with the picture contained the kinds of anomalies that are common to AI-generated images.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) published on X, formerly known as Twitter, where it was published on March 17, 2024. The entry shared an image of a billboard displaying Putin's face in an unnamed location engulfed in flames. The caption read:

good morning to the russians.

the billboard says "stability"

This is what the post looked like on X at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-03-19 at 11.37.55 AM.png

Twitter screenshot(Source: X screenshot taken on Tue Mar 19 15:37:55 2024 UTC)

Real The billboard indeed displayed the word "stability" written in Cyrillic letters:


But contrary to the claim, the image including flames did not show Russia in mid-March 2024.

The picture went viral predominantly in pro-Ukrainian accounts over the weekend of the presidential election in Russia when the Kremlin -- one month after Alexei Navalny's death and amid protests in Russia and abroad (archived here) -- claimed Vladimir Putin won his sixth term with 87 percent of the vote (archived here.)

Some users claimed that the picture portrayed an actual Ukrainian attack on Russian infrastructure. For example, one post (archived here) mentioned one of the three major airports in Moscow; another entry on social media stated it was an oil refinery.

Largely replaced with the promotion of government-sponsored forms of "patriotism" after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, what was described as "stability" -- the word from the billboard in the image in question -- was one of the major tropes of Putin's propaganda for the first 22 years of his rule. Over the years, this narrative generated numerous sarcastic memes among Russian-speaking internet users.

The image was initially posted (archived here) on Telegram on January 23, 2024, by the account of @khersondesigner.

The profile's description (archived here) written in Ukrainian referred to the content of the blog as "my work," as translated by Chrome. The entry said the picture was an "HD poster" (archived here.)

Kherson, the Ukrainian city with a sizeable pre-war Russian-speaking population mentioned in the user's handle, was occupied by the Russian army in 2022. Since then, it was liberated, although it is still being shelled from the adjacent areas remaining under Russian control.

Later, on March 13, 2024, an account on X with the same handle reposted (archived here) the same -- uncropped -- version of the picture. This time, the Ukrainian caption (below) referred to "stability" in Russia. However, it contained the hashtag #art:

Screen Shot 2024-03-19 at 11.53.45 AM.png

(Source: X screenshot taken on Tue Mar 19 15:53:45 2024 UTC)

A closer examination of the image showed several inconsistencies (circled in red in the image below) that are common in digitally created visuals. The left side of the picture showed a strange pattern of wires hanging over the railroad track but only attached to a metal structure on one end; next to it, there was a metal tower with disappearing elements. A light pole, closest to the billboard, had an ambiguous shape, and some metal sticks above the poster weirdly connected it to the wires in the sky. Furthermore, lower lines in the bottom right corner of the billboard -- below the word "Russia" (in Russian) -- were just some blurred pattern, not actual letters.


(Source: X download; red graphics added by Lead Stories.)

A Hive Moderation analysis confirmed that the image was "likely to be AI-generated":

Screen Shot 2024-03-19 at 11.26.50 AM.png

(Source: Hive Moderation screenshot taken on Tue Mar 19 15:26:50 2024 UTC)

Other Lead Stories fact checks about AI-generated content can be found here; stories concerning the Russian-Ukrainian war are here.

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  Uliana Malashenko

Uliana Malashenko is a New York-based freelance writer and fact checker.

Read more about or contact Uliana Malashenko

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