This Viral Photo Taken in 1989 of a Man Smoking in McDonald’s is Not All it Seems

Man smoking in McDonald's AI-generated

Sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant smoking a cigarette while eating a burger, this “peak male specimen” apparently had his picture taken in 1989, according to the caption.

The curious image, which has the overall tone and feel of a film photo taken in the late 1980s, was shared on X (formerly Twitter) where it has racked up over 22 million views in just two days.

But something is not right. “Why does the shirt have sleeves but no chest??” Ask one confused netizen.

It’s AI, Stupid

The convincing-looking “photo” was actually AI-generated, of course. But that didn’t stop an untold number of people from believing it was real.

And if you are only taking a quick glance, then you can be forgiven for being fooled. It is only when you take a closer look at some of the details that it becomes apparent the image was made by artificial intelligence.

The Fingers

AI finger

Why oh why are fingers such an Achilles heel for AI images? The fingers on the “peak male specimen” are far from the worst that AI has ever created but there is definitely something awry. And perhaps more obviously, the burger is not sitting in the box properly

Garbled Text

Maybe the fingers aren’t super-obvious, but a closer look at the Coca-Cola cup on the table confirms the image as AI-generated. The ineligible text that vaguely resembles the Coca-Cola logo is another of AI’s foibles.

The Man in the Background

While the main character of the image just about passes as human, the figures in the background are not so convincing with a man in a hat looking totally out of proportion and his hand appears to be pointing the wrong way.

The McDonald’s Sign

Is that supposed to say McDonald’s? It reads more like “Modlidani”.

Flagged as AI

The Community Notes feature on X did flag the images as AI-generated but not after a whole load of people fell for it. The person who posted the image (and presumably created it) admitted to his crimes in the comment section while also sharing similar bizarre images.

“AI always fails,” writes Grandaddy Jeff who posted the images. “Hire a real artist or photographer/models. Keep jobs with people.”

To which Kristi Yamaguccimane replied, “Why did you post bulls*** AI in the first place and pass it off as legit.”

While this is all harmless fun, it underlines how AI can distort reality. The hands and the text are giving it away for now. But this is likely only to be temporary as AI imagery continues to advance at an astounding rate. Today we can spot the fake. Tomorrow? Who knows.