Amnesty uses AI-generated images to portray Colombian protests, draws criticism

The Colombian protests began on April 28, 2021, sparked by a tax reform opposed by the working class and middle-class Colombians.
Sejal Sharma
Amnesty uses AI generated images
Amnesty uses AI generated images

Amnesty International/Twitter 

Amnesty International’s use of AI generated images to commemorate the second anniversary of Colombian protests has sparked a debate over the credibility of advocacy groups and media organizations in their coverage of war-inflicted zones.

Amnesty’s Norway regional account posted three images in a series of tweets. The first depicted a crowd of armor-clad police officers; the second featured a police officer with a red splotch on his face, and the third of a protester being dragged away by police officials. The AI-generated image of the woman showed her draped in a flag, but the flag's colors were out of order. The text superimposed over the image said, “Police officials raped and insulted women and LGBTI people taking part in protests.”

The tweet has since been deleted

Amnesty chose to go the AI way, even though it had access to the actual footage because they wanted to preserve the anonymity of the protesters, the organization told Gizmodo. To avoid misleading anyone, they mentioned at the bottom of the tweet: ‘Illustrations produced by artificial intelligence.’

Amnesty has clarified in a statement to Gizmodo that they consulted with partner organizations in Colombia and only then decided to use AI as a privacy-preserving alternative.

The Colombian protests began on April 28, 2021, sparked by a tax reform opposed by the working class and middle-class Colombians. Thousands thronged to the streets in the demonstration, which turned violent. The protests led to 28 deaths, as per United Nations estimates. Many protesters were injured, and the protest lasted for months.

Gizmodo spoke with human rights experts who said that using AI-generated images sets a troubling precedent and undermines the organization's credibility. Sam Gregory, the executive editor at WITNESS, which helps people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights, said Amnesty’s AI images did more harm than good. 

This draws the ire of the public, media houses, and other human rights advocacy groups, who say that this “undermines Amnesty’s position as an organization that can be trusted to provide on-the-ground details about various human rights violations around the world.”

In a statement to Vice, Amnesty further clarified, saying, “As part of its campaign for police reform in the Colombia, Amnesty International decided to use artificial intelligence images as a means of illustrating the grave human rights violations committed during the 2021 National Strike without endangering anyone who was present. 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. Those who did show their faces are still at risk and some are being criminalized by the Colombian authorities.”

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