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No, a viral photo does not show an explosion near the Pentagon

Here’s how we VERIFIED that an image claiming to show an explosion near the Pentagon complex in Virginia is fake.

An image claiming to show an explosion near the Pentagon went viral on May 22, leading some people on social media to panic. 

The photo, which was shared by Russian state-controlled news outlet RT and some Twitter users, shows a large column of smoke next to a building that posters claim is the Pentagon complex.

But other people on Twitter claimed the photo isn’t real. 


Does a viral photo show an explosion at the Pentagon?



This is false.

No, a viral photo does not show an explosion at the Pentagon.


The viral photo shared on social media does not show an explosion at the Pentagon on Monday, May 22, and appears to be AI-generated, according to local officials and expert analyses of the image.

Credit: VERIFY

The Pentagon is located in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. In a tweet on May 22, the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) debunked rumors about an explosion at the Pentagon.

“There is no explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation, and there is no immediate danger or hazards to the public,” the ACFD wrote.

There are some visual indicators that the viral image is fake. First, the windows and shape of the building in the viral photo do not match those in photos of the Pentagon available online. Part of a fence also appears to morph into a crowd barrier. That type of unrealistic distortion is often a sign that an image has been generated by AI. 

Siwei Lyu, the director of the UB Media Forensic Lab at SUNY Buffalo and a deepfake expert, said his lab ran the image with its algorithm and found that it may have come from a generative AI model

Several parts of the building, including the windows on the first and second floors, are “irregular and not consistent with real-life buildings,” Lyu said. 

He provided the photo below pointing out several irregularities in the fake image:

Credit: Siwei Lyu, Ph.D, director of the UB Media Forensic Lab at SUNY Buffalo

Nick Waters, a London-based researcher for the open-source investigative journalism group Bellingcat, said in a tweet that he is “confident” the photo is AI-generated. 

"If a bomb goes off in Washington, it's not just going to be one picture from one angle," Waters told VERIFY partner station WUSA. "You're going to get scores and scores of pictures showing the explosion, showing the after-effects of the explosion [and] people saying they saw the explosion.”

Twitter has also labeled other posts sharing the fake image as “manipulated media,” which is a violation of the social media platform’s policy.

VERIFY compiled tips to help you spot AI-generated content online. You can read more here

WUSA’s Matt Pusatory and Bruce Leshan contributed to this report.

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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