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Princess Catherine’s cancer video sparks new wave of AI conspiracies

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When Catherine, Princess of Wales, released a video statement last week announcing that she had been diagnosed with cancer, some social media users said they regretted engaging in wild speculation about his prolonged public absence. But others immediately turned to a new conspiracy: The video was generated by artificial intelligence.

Users on TikTok, X and Facebook shared videos pointing to alleged AI breadcrumbs, such as a ring disappearing and reappearing on Catherine’s hand. Others said her hair moved unnaturally or that the bed of daffodils in the background was strangely still.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” one woman said in a video with 1.4 million views on TikTok, capturing widespread confusion around some news events and images online amid the rapid progress of the AI technology. The woman – whose TikTok bio describes her as a “world traveler, photographer, designer and real estate investor” – then added to the confusion by breaking down what she claimed were signs of AI in Catherine’s recorded statement.

BBC Studios, a television production arm of the BBC, confirmed it filmed video of Catherine’s message last week at Windsor Castle, and Kensington Palace told the Washington Post that accusations of AI tampering were “factually inaccurate”. Several deepfake forensics experts agree, saying they examined the video and found no signs of AI manipulation.

“All these forensic analysts claiming to find evidence of AI manipulation, it’s a spectacular combination of ignorance and arrogance,” said Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in digital image analysis. Farid said he reviewed the video and found “absolutely no evidence” of AI’s involvement.

Earlier this week, TikTok appeared to divert users from searches related to such claims. A search for “Kate Middleton cancer ai” instead showed results for “Kate Middleton cancer.” The user was then able to access the results of the initial search. TikTok declined to comment.

The episode highlights the increasing difficulty of determining what is real and what is not in the age of AI. Former President Donald Trump once falsely accused an unflattering political ad of using AI-generated content, and fake images of politicians on both sides of the aisle have circulated widely on social media. destabilize the concept of truth in the 2024 elections.

“AI casts a pretty big shadow,” Farid said. Major online moments are ‘immediately suspicious’, fueling conspiracy culture.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, said in a video posted March 22 that she was in the early stages of chemotherapy and was “getting stronger every day.” (Video: BBC Studios)

Social media speculation about Catherine erupted after a series of confusing events that left the public wanting to know more about the princess’s health and happiness. In January, Kensington Palace released a statement that Catherine underwent “successful” abdominal surgery. Weeks passed without the princess appearing in public. Then, in early March, the palace released a happy photo of Catherine and her three young children, which – as it later admitted – had been photoshopped. As major news outlets retracted publication of the photo, the incident raised more questions and fueled conspiracy theories.

Then came Friday’s video, in which Catherine, with pale eyes, sits alone on a bench in front of a garden in spring flowers. After sharing the news of her illness, she describes a heartbreaking effort “to explain everything to George, Charlotte and Louis in a way that works for them and to reassure them that everything will be okay.” And she asks the world to let her take care of her young family in peace.

The revelation of her cancer diagnosis stunned viewers and sparked an outpouring of affection for the princess. Some online conspirators apologized for fueling rumors about his long absence from the public eye. But a new doubt quickly arose: “Can someone explain how nothing was moving in the decor, the flowers, the grass, etc.? “, argued one X user (who was promptly called a “moron” by a prominent British TV personality).

Wael Abd-Almageed, AI professor at Clemson University who develops deepfake detection software, said he and a student ran the video through their detector and found no indication of AI content. Abd-Almageed slowed down the video to review it manually, again finding no evidence of AI tampering. If details such as his ring appear blurry, he says, it’s because of the motion blur and compression of the video.

Another expert, Hao Li, CEO and co-founder of AI generative video effects company Pinscreen, agreed that the video looks authentic, noting the insects flying in front of Catherine’s face and the subtle swaying of the yellow flowers background.

Only one AI expert contacted by The Post supported these suspicions: Deepfake detection startup Deep Media, which has contracts with the Pentagon, said it found a “high probability” that Catherine’s voice and face have been manipulated with AI.

But other experts — including Farid, Abd-Almageed and Claire Wardle, co-founder and co-director of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University — reviewed Deep Media’s findings at the Post’s request and said found the results unconvincing.

Given that even disinformation experts now struggle to assess the authenticity of online content, Brown’s Wardle urged institutions such as Kensington Palace and the BBC to do more to publicly validate the images they share before the Online conspiracies are gaining momentum.

The continued speculation around Catherine highlights the difficulty of assessing what is real in an AI-driven media landscape, she said, as well as the risks of relying on deepfake detectors to separate fact from The fiction.

“Most people don’t have access to tools to do this type of analysis,” Wardle said. “And even those who say they have these tools are by no means 100 percent secure.”

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