Truth or Fake

How can you spot a fake profile picture on social media?

On this episode of Truth or Fake, we take a closer look at how artificial intelligence can be used to make a fake profile picture.
On this episode of Truth or Fake, we take a closer look at how artificial intelligence can be used to make a fake profile picture. © Observers

Whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, there are plenty of fake accounts. People using these accounts hide behind a fake avatar and incite debates or mock other users. Sometimes even the profile pictures are completely fabricated – they’re not real people. In this episode, the Truth or Fake team shows you how to spot these fake photos.

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Fake accounts on social media often try to show a realistic identity. And they can do so by using profile pictures that appear to show real people, using photos from the website This Person Does Not Exist. It automatically generates ultra-realistic photos of men, women and even children, regularly used by false accounts online.

But it’s not too difficult to spot these fakes. The most obvious clue is the position of the eyes – they're always in the same place on a fixed grid.

You can also look at other elements: glasses, earrings, backgrounds... In this episode of Truth or Fake, we spoke to Victor Baissait, a web developer and tech expert, who gives us some tips on what to look out for.

Investigating trolls posing as far-left activists 

Victor Baissait used these techniques to identify at least eight accounts created using fake profile pictures and aliases.  

He explained his investigation in a thread on Twitter. 

In a thread on Twitter, Victor Baissait demonstrated how he realised a number of accounts were using fake profile pictures to pose as activists.

These accounts, which were created to pollute Twitter debates, pretended to be environmental, far-left or feminist activists. They promoted fake books and even made a fake online fundraiser for a person seeking gender affirmation surgery.

This Tweet shows the fake personalities on Twitter who claimed to have written a book.

Baissait told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that, although these accounts seem like jokes, they can be dangerous:

These accounts are against anything that can be seen as ‘woke culture’ [Editor’s note: being aware of issues related to social justice and racial equality], and their aim is to confuse the message on social media by tricking people on the right into thinking they are really left-wing activists. They are ‘trolls’ who want to push false narratives and distract from the real debates being had by activists.

One of the other great dangers is that many of these accounts didn't say they were parodies, until very recently. Now it says 'parody account' for some of them, but not all. These fake profiles will deliberately play on that to trick people.