DeSantis Campaign Ad Features AI Fakes Of Trump Hugging Fauci

The ad marks a troubling advancement in the use of AI in political campaigning: a deliberate attempt to blur reality.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) presidential campaign used fake, seemingly AI-produced images of former President Donald Trump hugging former COVID adviser Anthony Fauci in a campaign ad on Thursday — a potentially troubling escalation of the use of artificial intelligence in political advertising.

The ad, which dings Trump for not firing Fauci when he was president, includes fake images showing Trump hugging the medical adviser — which AFP and The Verge noted bore the signs of artificial intelligence-generated images, such as strange blurring and nonsensical text beneath the White House logo.

The inaccurate label “REAL LIFE TRUMP” — a contrast with “REALITY TV TRUMP,” according to the ad — appeared above the images.

Screengrabs from an ad campaign for Ron DeSantis featured on the DeSantis War Room Twitter account. The images are likely to have been AI-generated.
Screengrabs from an ad campaign for Ron DeSantis featured on the DeSantis War Room Twitter account. The images are likely to have been AI-generated.
DeSantis War Room/Twitter

Political consultants are bracing for the impact such fakes will have on this campaign season. The American Association of Political Consultants announced last month that it will “use a broad standard to review, condemn, and, if necessary, sanction its members for using ‘deep fake’ ads produced with generative AI technology.”

The group’s president-elect, Larry Huynh, told HuffPost, “AAPC has taken a strong stand against the use of ‘deepfake’ videos intended to mislead voters. Such ads are a violation of the AAPC ethics policy and are ineligible for the annual AAPC Pollie Awards.”

On Thursday, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a Trump ally, said on Twitter, “Smearing Donald Trump with fake AI images is completely unacceptable.”

“We’re in a new era,” the senator added.

This isn’t the first use of AI fakes this presidential cycle. The Republican National Committee used AI — with the visible disclaimer “Built entirely with AI imagery” — in an ad imagining a dystopian Biden second term. And Trump used a generated version of DeSantis’ voice in a video posted to his Truth Social account, placing the Florida governor in a Twitter “Spaces” conversation with Dick Cheney and Hitler, among others.

But the new ad, which was shared on the official DeSantis War Room Twitter account, appeared to cross a new frontier: The images, mixed in with other real footage and without a disclaimer, had the potential to mislead viewers.

An unnamed source with “knowledge of the political operation” claimed to Semafor that the video wasn’t an ad, but rather, a social media post.

“If the Trump team is upset about this, I’d ask them why they have been continuously posting fake images and false talking points to smear the governor,” the source added.

An unnamed Trump adviser told the outlet, “Fake images from a fake campaign for a fake candidate. This stunt had the ‘please clap’ energy of Ron DeSanctimonious’ mentor, Jeb Bush.”

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