Fake Pentagon attack hoax shows perils of Twitter’s paid verification

Surprising literally no one, the combination of paid blue checks and generative AI makes it all too easy to spread misinformation. On Monday morning, a seemingly AI-generated image of an explosion at the Pentagon circulated around the internet, even though the event didn't actually happen.

Within about half an hour, the image appeared on a verified Twitter account called "Bloomberg Feed," which could very easily be mistaken for a real Bloomberg-affiliated account, especially since it had a blue check. That account has since been suspended. The Russian state-controlled news network RT also shared the image, according to screenshots that users captured before the tweet was deleted. Several Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, like DeItaone, OSINTdefender and Whale Chart shared it. Even an Indian television network reported the fake Pentagon explosion. It is not immediately clear where this fake image and news story originated.

This is far from the first time that a fake image has successfully tricked the internet, but the stakes are higher when the fake event is an explosion at a U.S. government building, rather than the Pope wearing a Balenciaga coat. Some have reported that the fake image could be tied to a 25 basis point movement of the S&P 500, but the dip didn't last long, and there's no way to prove that it was entirely a result of this hoax. The incident does raise the question of how generative AI could be used to game the stock market in the future -- after all, Reddit did it.

Misinformation is an issue as old as the internet, but the simultaneous growth of generative AI and change in Twitter's verification system makes for especially fertile ground. From the get-go, Twitter owner Elon Musk's plan to strip existing blue checks of their status and let anyone pay for the symbol has been a mess.

Even if we know that blue checks no longer indicate legitimacy, it's hard to break a visual habit you've cultivated for almost 15 years: If you see an account called "Bloomberg Feed" that has a blue check posting about an attack on the Pentagon, you're probably predisposed to think it's real. As it gets more and more difficult to spot fake images, we'll only continue seeing false news reports like this in the future.