AI-generated faces are taking over the internet

The Times profiled an 18-year-old Ukrainian woman named “Luba Dovzhenko” in March to illustrate life under siege. She, the article claimed, studied journalism, spoke “bad English,” and began carrying a weapon after the Russian invasion.

The issue, however, was that Dovhenko doesn’t exist in real life, and the story was taken down shortly after it was published,

Luba Dovhenko was a fake online persona engineered to capitalize on the growing interest in Ukraine-Russia war stories on Twitter and gain a large following. The account not only never tweeted before March, but it also had a different username, and the updates it had been tweeting, which is what possibly drew The Times’ attention, had been ripped off from other genuine profiles. The most damning evidence of her fraud, however, was right there in her face.

In Dovhenko’s profile picture, some of her hair strands were detached from the rest of her head, a few eyelashes were missing, and most importantly, her eyes were strikingly centered. They were all telltale signs of an artificial face coughed up by an AI algorithm.

The facial feature positioning isn't the only anomaly in @lubadovzhenko1's profile pic; not the detached hair in the lower right portion of the image and the partially missing eyelashes (among other things). pic.twitter.com/UPuvAQh4LZ

— Northern Conspirator (@conspirator0) March 31, 2022

Dovhenko’s face was fabricated by the tech behind deepfakes, an increasingly mainstream technique that allows anyone to superimpose a face over another person’s in a video and is employed for everything from revenge porn to manipulating world leaders’ speeches. And by feeding such algorithms millions of pictures of real people, they can be repurposed to create lifelike faces like Dovhenko’s out of thin air. It’s a growing problem that’s making the fight against misinformation even more difficult.

An army of AI-generated fake faces

Over the last few years, as social networks crack down on faceless, anonymous trolls, AI has armed malicious actors and bots with an invaluable weapon: the ability to appear alarmingly authentic. Unlike before, when trolls simply ripped real faces off the internet and anyone could unmask them by reverse-imaging their profile picture, it’s practically impossible for someone to do the same for AI-generated photos because they’re fresh and unique. And even upon closer inspection, most people can’t tell the difference.

Dr. Sophie Nightingale, a psychology professor at the U.K.’s Lancaster University, found that people have just a 50% chance of spotting an AI-synthesized face, and many even considered them more trustworthy than real ones. The means for anyone to access “synthetic content without specialized knowledge of Photoshop or CGI,” she told , “creates a significantly larger threat for nefarious uses than previous technologies.”

illustrations of natural ffhq and stylegan2-generated images that are hardly distinguishable
Illustrations of natural FFHQ and StyleGAN2-generated images that are hardly distinguishable.

What makes these faces so elusive and highly realistic, says Yassine Mekdad, a cybersecurity researcher at the University of Florida, whose model to spot AI-generated pictures has a 95.2% accuracy, is that their programming (known as a Generative Adversarial Network) uses two opposing neural networks