Princess Catherine And THAT Photo – What It Says About Trust in The Age of AI

By Giulia Sirignani
on 13 March 2024

A photo of a pretty mum smiling, post-operation, flanked by her adorable kids is taken by dad. It goes viral. Then backfires.

What happened and why did it go wrong?

The photograph of Catherine, Princess of Wales surrounded by her three children George, 10, Charlotte, 8 and Louis, 5 was the first authorised picture of her since Christmas and after abdominal surgery in January, 2024, which is keeping her from royal duties until after Easter. It was released to thank well-wishers on Mother’s Day in the UK

Within hours, five photo agencies issued a “kill notice” to stop the distribution of the picture. Prestigious news organisations like the New York Times and Washington Post quickly dropped it from their coverage.

“At closer inspection, it appears that the source has manipulated the image,” the AP notice said.

Getty, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Shutterstock and Reuters have strict rules about the photoshopping of images tagged as news. The idea that they could be accused of colluding with the Royal Family in issuing fake images might irrevocably hurt their credibility, so they “killed” the photo.

In a social media world, which fuels conspiracy and peddles disinformation, The Royals have been caught manipulating their image at a time when trust between them and the public is on shaky ground. The press has been chanting some version of “Where is Kate?” for the last month, so suspicions that the Prince and Princess of Wales released an AI doctored image does nothing to assuage fears and build trust.

Hany Farid, a University of California, Berkeley, professor who investigates digital manipulation and misinformation, told NBC News (America) “I think it is unlikely that this is anything more than a relatively minor photo manipulation. There is no evidence that this image is entirely AI-generated,” he said.

Catherine released a ‘Mea Culpa’ post on the @KensingtonRoyal account on X which read: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

Even if this is so and even if an AI tool may have been used to edit real photos, Sunday’s incident also comes at a time when the media and the public are on high alert over AI and its ability to create realistic images, audio and video from simple prompts.

The public has a right to expect transparency and the five news agencies who halted the photo’s dissemination proved how effective truth guardrails can and still do work in the age of AI. It may well be the very lesson The Royals, media and a hungry public needed.


Related News

More WLT News