An Exploding Pentagon In A Fake Photo Sends Twitter Into Frenzy

By   Adeola Adegunwa
Writer , Informationsecuritybuzz | May 22, 2023 10:01 pm PST

Earlier yesterday, the stock market took a small fall due to highly realistic AI-generated visuals going popular on Twitter suggesting an explosion near the Pentagon. Many verified Twitter accounts, including a Russian state media account with millions of followers and a verified account mimicking the Bloomberg news agency, spread tweets with photographs purportedly showing an explosion near the Pentagon complex in Arlington, Virginia.

The viral images were genuine at first look, but closer inspection reveals they were manufactured by artificial intelligence. Even while Twitter has removed the bogus Bloomberg account, the incident demonstrates the risks associated with the platform’s pay-to-be-verified mechanism, which allows any account to be verified by paying for a blue check that, to many users, indicates the account can be trusted.

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency (which no longer has a blue check even though it is a Defense Agency in the U.S. Department of Defense) retweeted a post from the Arlington Fire and EMS Department confirming that the image is phony.

Arlington Fire & EMS has reported that there has been “NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation,” and that the public is not in immediate risk. A Department of Defense spokeswoman similarly called the AI-generated image “misinformation” in an interview with Forbes.

Hours after being flagged as phony by various U.S. government agencies and OSINT experts, the Twitter account that originally published the image deleted the message.

This is similar to what happened in November, when a fake Eli Lilly Twitter account falsely claimed that insulin “is free now” after Twitter Blue introduced the option to pay for a blue check.

Twitter suspended the account, but not before the post had gotten lots of retweets thousands of times and brought Eli Lilly’s market value down by about $22 billion in less than 24 hours.

Timeout on Twitter A Twitter sales representative at the time informed NBC that the company implemented Twitter Blue paid verification as a direct response to the incident and numerous other similar pranks and frauds.

Since March 23, 2023, users everywhere have had access to Twitter Blue, a premium subscription service that costs $8 per month and grants them access to account verification, fewer ads, higher search and conversation rankings, and the ability to edit their tweets.

Reasons Selling Twitter Verification Is Such A Bad Idea

1. Reducing Verification Exclusivity

Verified Twitter users are loud opponents of Elon Musk’s plan to provide blue ticks to everyone who can pay. Somewhat understandable. If everyone becomes Twitter royalty, they may lose their status. Elon Musk dislikes the “lords and peasants system” of the status quo.

Musk aims to eliminate this gap. However, many consumers demand verification since it gives them a sense of exclusivity. Like money, rare items are more desirable. Verification badges are scarce digital goods. Hence a limitless supply devalues them.

However, it could create another split between those who can afford a Twitter Blue subscription and those who cannot, without external signals like success or prominence in a field determining who becomes verified.

2. Anonymous persons would become limited 

Twitter is great for anonymously expressing your thoughts. Twitter doesn’t require genuine names like Facebook. Tweet under your name, brand name, or anonymously. Twitter users value pseudo-anonymity. Criticizing authoritarian regimes is safe. You can have pleasure anonymously without being judged by society.

“Verification for all” risks making Twitter a real-name-only network. Get the blue checkmark by revealing your identity. You can keep tweeting anonymously under Twitter’s current verification proposal.

Unfortunately, an open-for-all verification mechanism may lead to a platform where unverified accounts are ignored or even disdained while those with the blue checkmark are considered seriously. This would indirectly encourage verification and loss of anonymity.

3. Fake Accounts May Rise

Twitter’s spam and bots worry Elon Musk. He tweeted, “defeat the spam bots or die trying.” Verification to battle bots is a worthy cause, but there’s a catch. Imagine a verified account changing its handle to resemble a government or celebrity account. 

Criminals could run wild without effective countermeasures. I’m Twitter-supported and have a blue checkmark, so I’m legitimate, right? Provide your password.

Verified accounts have changed their handles to defraud people. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey addressed the matter in 2018. With millions of accounts suddenly verified, imagine how many fakes will appear.

4. High-Profile Account Exodus

Elon Musk’s cash-for-verification idea would charge confirmed users to keep their badge. As expected, several verified high-profile accounts are threatening to leave Twitter if Musk follows through. High-profile individuals are leaving Twitter in droves as a response to the platform’s controversial verification buying process. This wave of departures has raised concerns about the effectiveness and fairness of Twitter’s verification buying system, as well as its impact on the platform’s user base and overall reputation.


On Monday morning, a verified Twitter user faked an explosion near the Pentagon and distributed the image online that it said was created by artificial intelligence. 

The account posed as Bloomberg, a news organization, by adopting the handle @BloombergFeed. Furthermore, it was given a blue checkmark by Twitter’s verification system, a service that can be purchased for $8 or $11 per month. 

This allowed the account to fool some people when it said a “large explosion” had happened near the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. As evidence, it published a picture purportedly showing a plume of smoke rising from near the federal building.

As more and more people, including the Russian news source, shared the photo on Twitter, it quickly became widely shared and regarded as news. The one and only catch? There was no explosion, as reported. 

There was no blast at the Pentagon, as confirmed by local authorities(Opens in a new window). Other people similarly found problems with the explosion photo. These flaws, such as the inability to adequately depict the background, are characteristic of AI-generated photos. This includes the lamp post and the Pentagon building.  

Twitter consequently banned @BloombergFeed for good. However, the episode has sparked fears that the same fake may be used again by bad actors to disrupt elections, the stock market, or to spread panic. 

The removal of verified blue checkmarks from verified accounts, including the Pentagon’s police force, has not helped users distinguish between authentic and bogus news on Twitter. It’s possible that further development in AI-generated photos will further blur the boundaries.


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