Amnesty International recently used AI-generated images to depict police brutality in Colombia to mark the two-year anniversary of the protests. The human rights NGO initially defended the use of the images. However, after much criticism, have since taken them down.
Amnesty’s Norway regional account posted three AI-generated images on their Twitter feed. The tweet was to acknowledge the two-year anniversary of a major protest in Colombia where police brutalized protestors and committed “grave human rights violations.”
Amnesty initially defended its use of the AI images, telling Gizmodo that it was to keep individuals safe and to keep their identities hidden. Even two years after the protests, people who took part could still be at risk. The images showed a group of riot-gear-clad police officers hauling a young unarmed woman away. Another showed a police officer with a red splotch on his face. All the images were clearly labelled as ‘AI-generated content.’
“Many people who participated in the National Strike covered their faces because they were afraid of being subjected to repression and stigmatization by state security forces,” an Amnesty spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo. “Those who did show their faces are still at risk, and some are being criminalized by the Colombian authorities.”
However, after a cascade of criticism, Amnesty International has removed the tweet and taken down the images. One media scholar criticised the images saying that they “devalue” the work of photojournalists. Additionally, it could further undermine human rights organisations in a country with an authoritarian regime that already casts doubts on the truth of real photographs of events.
Amnesty Internation told Petapixel that it would “pause and reflect further” on the use of AI. “We hope that removing the images will help us to raise awareness of the human rights violations committed against protesters in Colombia,” a spokesperson said. “As we have taken on board the comments and criticism that their use was only distracting from our core message of support for the victims and their calls for justice.”
It’s an interesting case and just goes to show how we are collectively feeling our way with this new medium of ‘not quite photos, not quite illustrations’. I wonder if we would have had the same reaction, however, had the images clearly looked like artistic renditions and not so much like photographs.
Photographs have been associated with truth since photography was invented. Of course, particularly with photo manipulation, this hasn’t been the case for some time. However, photojournalists and the press are under a strict oath and ethical code not to doctor images.
Protecting the identity of protesters and photojournalists is all very commendable. There have been many instances where people have been targeted by governments for their involvement in taking a stand. Photojournalists just doing their job and covering events can often be at the mercy of authoritarian governments, so Amnesty had a good reason for using AI images.
Perhaps the answer is to approach AI-generated content as an artistic impression and not as a photograph. Of course, telling the difference between the two is going to be the challenge.
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