Trusting what you see is harder than ever these days.
During Super Bowl LVIII, artificial intelligence appeared in multiple ads, as a product, a highlighted feature of a product or as the butt of a joke.
For some viewers, AI was so top of mind that they started seeing it even where it wasn’t.
In one case, a 60-second commercial for the campaign “He Gets Us” prompted some social media users to ask: “Was that Jesus commercial composed entirely of AI images?”
The minute-long ad, which aired during the game’s first quarter, featured more than 10 images that seemed surreal at first glance. It showed people of different ages, genders and races washing someone else’s foot in a variety of settings — a school hallway, a front yard, a desert landscape, a protest.
Jesus washed the feet of friends and enemies. No ego or hate. He humbly loved his neighbors. How can we do the same? pic.twitter.com/kXift42ZG9
— HeGetsUs (@HeGetsUs) February 11, 2024
The ad opened with a still image of a dining room: In the foreground, a young man with short blond hair washed the feet of an older man with graying hair and glasses. The next image featured a young man in a dark alley with one foot on an overturned milk crate. A police officer used a 2-liter soda bottle and rag to wash the young man’s foot.
The third image shows what looks like a high school hallway, with two students in the foreground, one pouring water on the foot of the other.
A slowed-down cover of the INXS song “Never Tear Us Apart” played as the ad transitioned from image to image. Text at the very end said: “Jesus didn’t teach hate,” in all-capital letters. “He washed feet.”
The commercial referred viewers to the website HeGetsUs.com/LoveYourNeighbor.
Many viewers on Reddit and on social media questioned whether the visuals depicted real people or were created using artificial intelligence.
PolitiFact’s verdict: No, the images from the He Gets Us Super Bowl commercial were not AI generated.
They were photographs taken by fine-art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten. She confirmed she took the photos in an email to PolitiFact, and He Gets Us credited them to her.
Fullerton-Batten’s website describes her photography style as “highly cinematic visual storytelling,” and says that in her larger projects, each image “embellishes her subject matter in a series of thought-provoking narrative ‘stories.’
The site says that by using “unusual locations, highly creative settings, street-cast models, accented with cinematic lighting” Fullerton-Batten’s “insinuates visual tensions in her images and imbues them with a mystique that teases the viewer into continually re-examining the picture.”
(Screenshot from YouTube)
On its website, He Gets Us says it is a campaign created by a “diverse group of Jesus fans and followers with a variety of faith journeys” that aims to “move beyond the mess of our current cultural moment to a place where all of us are invited to rediscover the love story of Jesus – Christians, non-Christians, and everybody in between.”
He Gets Us says it is managed by Come Near, a nonprofit organization.
A He Gets Us spokesperson said the ad was created by Lerma, a Dallas-based advertising agency. Lerma spokesperson Jon Lee told Ad Age that Fullerton-Batten’s photography portrays “an idealistic kind of world.”
“We took these different subjects that might be considered to be ideologically different than one another and we created this new style to imagine what the world might look like,” he said. Lee said the ad’s intent was “to share the authentic love that Jesus showed to all people.”
The ad was based on a Bible story about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, a lesson of humility in service to others.
Lerma did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment.
A He Gets Us blog post said the “images of people washing each other’s feet look a little strange and disconcerting because it’s not part of our modern-day customs. But there’s also something beautiful and profound in each image.”
PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.