As the state of Georgia prepares for a US Senate runoff, social media posts shared an image purportedly showing Raphael Warnock’s mug shot. However, forensic analysis by a misinformation tracking company shows the photo of the Democratic incumbent has been altered.
“GA finest the Reverend Warnock,” says a tweet dated November 11, 2022, with more than 6,000 retweets.
Screenshot of a tweet dated November 17, 2022
The post is one of dozens brought to the surface of AFP by VineSight, a company that uses artificial intelligence to spot potential online misinformation. Many are direct responses to Warnock’s tweets, while other posts shared the image on Facebook.
Warnock, Georgia’s incumbent Democratic US Senator, will face Republican Herschel Walker in a runoff on December 6, 2022. Warnock received a multitude of votes in the 8 November midterm elections, but fell short of the required majority to avoid a second round.
Warnock has been arrested before, but the mugshot shared online is a digital invention.
Photo is manipulated
To determine if the image shared online is authentic, VineSight performed an Error Level Analysis (ELA). The process involves identifying areas within an image file that have different levels of compression.
“With JPEG images, the entire image should be roughly at the same level. If a section of the image has a significantly different level of error, it likely indicates digital modification,” says FotoForensics, an image analysis tool, on its website.
Nir Hauser, chief technology officer and co-founder of VineSight, told AFP that the outline of Warnock’s head in the photo shared online “shows clear manipulation (and is visibly blurred in the original image).
He added, “The text in the image also shows manipulation.”
Screenshot of an error level analysis performed by VineSight
The photo contains several other clues that indicate the photo has been altered.
A nondescript arrest poster reads “Police Dept.” without specifying a place of jurisdiction. And the look of Warnock’s head doesn’t match the rest of the photo.
A reverse image search using PimEyes reveals that the image shared online appears to be from an interview given to Warnock 11 Alive, an Atlanta television news network, about his 2017 arrest at the US Capitol.
Warnock was arrested in 2002, 2014 and 2017. However, AFP could not find any publicly available mugshots of Warnock.
The picture shared online is dated July 31, 2002, when Warnock was arrested in Maryland for allegedly interfering with a child abuse investigation at a church camp where he was a pastor. According to a police report, he asked investigators not to conduct interviews with camp counselors until a lawyer was present.
However, the charges were eventually dropped – and the Carroll County assistant attorney general later said the arrest was due to “miscommunication”. The Baltimore Sun reported.
When the nature of Warnock’s arrest came under scrutiny during his 2020 US Senate bid, campaign spokesman Terrence Clark told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it was a “false attack” taken out of context .
“Law enforcement officials later apologized and commended him for his help with this investigation,” Clark told the newspaper.
Warnock was arrested twice more – both for protesting public health policies.
Warnock was arrested at the Georgia Capitol in 2014 while protesting Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid. And in 2017, he and other religious leaders were arrested in the US Capitol after praying against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
AFP reached out to Warnock’s campaign and Senate offices for comment, but received no response.
AFP has fact-checked more false and misleading claims about the midterm elections here.