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Trace the Information: Did the Pope rock this large white puffer coat?

SKILL: Trace the Information

DIFFICULTY: Challenging

SUBJECT(S): Pop Culture, AI

Students will trace the history of this image of the Pope in a stylish white puffer jacket using a reverse image search to find that it was created using AI (artificial intelligence).


Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church, the bishop of Rome and sovereign of the Vatican City State.

Drip is slang for both fashionable clothing and accessories as well as being fashionable and cool.

AI art is art generated using artificial intelligence. The AI is trained on a data-set of thousands of images and uses it to produce new images. The person using the AI art generator can use text to describe what image they want the AI to produce.

About the Example

This image of the Pope wearing a long white puffy jacket (that fashion lovers will know to be from the luxury brand Balenciaga) went viral on social media in late March 2023. While many were impressed, bemused, shocked, or confused by the Pope’s new “drip,” other keen-eyed internet users were quick to point out signs that the image was generated by AI.

Photorealistic images like this one are already fooling many, and generative AI technology is improving rapidly. Signals used to spot AI images will not remain reliable as the technology advances. This means lateral reading skills are essential in distinguishing fact from AI fiction, and will only become more so. 

All of the CTRL-F skills can be useful in helping to identifying AI images: investigating the source of the image, performing a keyword search to check what other reliable sources are saying about the story, or using a reverse image search to get closer to the original source of the image or to see if it has been fact-checked or reported on. 

In this example, we’ll use a reverse-image search to trace the history of this image. Doing so we’ll find many articles (Buzzfeed News, The Verge, Ars Technica) explaining that this fake was created for fun using Midjourney, a program that uses AI to create hyper-realistic photos and illustrations based on user prompts.


  1. Show students the tweet and ask them to identify the person in the image and summarize the claim. 
  2. Have students do a reverse-image search using the following steps:
    • Right click on the image and select “Search Google for this image.”
    • Select “Find image source.”
  3. Have students click into the Verge article. Guiding questions: 
    • When the image was first created, it was posted on a subreddit for Midjourney, contextualizing the image as AI art. Why might the image have been re-shared without this context? 
    • Other AI images have been created that are photorealistic but are easily identified as fake. Why might people be inclined to believe that this image of the Pope was authentic? Why might this image have gone viral? What kinds of AI images are likely to be perceived as authentic in the future?
    • Why is it important to use lateral reading instead of relying on visual clues that the image is AI-generated?

Review and Discuss Key Concepts (optional)

Review the concept of Poe’s Law — “An internet adage stating that without a clear statement of the author’s intent, there is no joke, parody, or satire that is self-evidently so. There is no view so extreme that it won’t be mistaken by at least some people as sincere.” Even if something is created as a joke, the internet doesn’t make context clear, and it is always possible for a joke to be taken seriously by others

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