Google Search showed a fake, AI-generated image for "Tank Man"

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Google has once again tried to prevent fake, AI-generated images from appearing at the top of search results. It recently surfaced a fake selfie as the featured search result for the term “tank man.” The company has since corrected the mistake, but not before the internet caught its inability to stop such occurrences.

Google failed to detect a fake, AI-generated “Tank Man”

Tank Man is associated with China’s infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre that took place in June 1989. It is the nickname given to an unidentified Chinese man who bravely stood in front of a column of Type 59 protesting the massacre. The photograph remains one of the most iconic images from the conflict in Beijing. It is often remembered by people on the internet.


However, 404media recently noticed that searching for “tank man” on Google showed a never-seen-before photo as the top result. It was a selfie of a man standing in front of a Type 59 tank at the same location. Quite clearly, it was a fake, AI-generated photo that imitated the historical event. The intention of the creator likely wasn’t to spread misinformation, but Google putting it up at the top of the search results highlights an entirely different problem.

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The modern generative AI tools are so powerful that they can rewrite history with fake images, videos, texts, audio, and other forms of content, and unsuspecting people would never realize it. Social media is already full of such manipulative content. Online platforms need to step up their game and steer people away from potentially harmful or misleading AI-generated content, or at least help people differentiate between real and fake content.

However, Google Search failed here. What’s more baffling is that this AI-generated image of the Tank Man first appeared on the internet six months back. A user posted it on the subreddit Midjourney, named after the text-to-image AI tool. The user likely wanted to show their creation using the tool. But Google picked it up and passed it to users as a genuine photo from a 30-year-old historic event.

Google needs countermeasures to tackle AI prowess

While Google doesn’t ban AI-generated images for various reasons, this is another example that it must do something about such images. The company has made these kinds of errors on multiple occasions in the past. A few months back, it showed an AI-produced rendition of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s classic painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” as the top result when simply searching with his name.


Google went on to remove those images from search results following media coverage. It has done so this time as well, saying that it isn’t always possible to detect fake images. Hopefully, the company will be able to tackle AI effectively sooner rather than later. It certainly needs countermeasures to tackle AI prowess and stop showing people potentially misleading content on Search.

“Given the scale of the open web… it’s possible that our systems might not always select the best images regardless of how those images are produced, AI-generated or not. In this case, we took action to remove the image from the Search feature, as our policies for this feature don’t allow inaccurate content on public interest topics like this,” part of the official statement reads.

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