Which Face Is Real?
Learn to spot fake faces at a glance

As remarkable as the StyleGAN algorithm is, it leaves a number of "tells" in each image it creates. These vary from image to image — not every one has all or even many of these glitches — but with a bit of practice you can learn to spot them at a glance. We learned many of these tricks from the excellent tutorial published by Kyle McDonald in 2018.

Water-splotches

We can't expect future algorithms to have this problem, but one of the distinguishing features of the current StyleGAN algorithm is that it commonly produces shiny blobs that look somewhat like water splotches on old photographic prints. These are a dead giveaway. Water splotches can appear anywhere in the image, but often show up at the interface between the hair and the background.

Water-splotches
Water-splotches
Water-splotches

Background problems

Another dead giveaway is that all sorts of things can go wrong with the backgrounds of the images. The neural net is trained on the face, and doesn't pay as much attention to what is going on at the sides. At the very worst, you get some extremely odd companions, as in the first picture below. Sometimes you just get chaotic cubist forms. And sometimes the background looks almost like a torn photograph .

Bizarre companion
Chaotic background
Torn photograph

Eyeglasses

Right now, it's very hard for algorithms to generate realistic-looking eyeglasses. A common problem is asymmetry. Look at the frame structure; often the frame will take one style at the left and another at the right, or there will be a wayfarer-style ornament on one side but not on the other. Other times the frame will just be crooked or jagged.

Asymmetric eyeglasses
Asymmetric eyeglasses
Asymmetric eyeglasses

Other asymmetries

In general, symmetry is a challenge for the facial generation algorithms. In additional to asymmetry eyeglasses, be on the lookout for asymmetries in facial hair, different earrings in the left and right ear, and different forms of collar or fabric on the left and right side.

Half a mustache
Two different earrings
Asymmetric shirt

Hair

Hair is extremely difficult to render realistically. Sometimes there will be disconnected strands of hair on the face or elsewhere, as in other first image below. Other times the hair will be too straight, streaked, as Kyle McDonald put it, "like someone smudged a bunch of acrylic with a palette knife or a huge brush." We see this in the middle image below. Sometimes there will be a strange glow or halo around the hair, as in the final image below.

Disconnected hair
Paint-streak hair
Haloed hair

Flourescent bleed

One interesting tell arises is that flourescent colors sometimes bleed in from background onto the hair or face.

Flourescent bleed
Flourescent bleed
Flourescent bleed

Teeth

Teeth are not easy to render. Often teeth are odd or asymmetric. In some cases, you may even see three incisors as in the final photograph below.

Flourescent bleed
Flourescent bleed
Flourescent bleed

Signs that a photograph is real

We have shown you how to identify an image that is fake. Now that you know what things that hard for the neural network to generate, you can look for cases where these are accurately rendered and if these are done well you can feel fairly confident that an image is real. These include symmetric eyeglasses and earrings (first image below), actual human-looking companions at the side of a photograph (second image below), and detailed backgrounds especially if there is readable text (third image below).

Perfect glasses
Flourescent bleed
Flourescent bleed

The silver bullet

In real life there is actually a silver bullet that will let you unfailingly determine whether someone depicted on the internet is real. It's simple: The StyleGAN algorithm is unable to generate multiple images of the same fake person. Right now, we are unaware of any software that can generate multiple images of the same fake person taken from multiple perspectives. So if you want to be sure that your tinder crush is a real person, insist on seeing two or more photos. If he's got a headshot and a picture of himself with a tiger, he's a real person. Of course the person writing to you could be someone other than the person in the picture, but the person in the picture is certainly real.

At some point, software will probably catch up. But for now, multiple pictures offer powerful reassurance that the image is not a fake.

With all this of this in mind, go back and play again. You'll find that with a bit of practice you can get very good at spotting fake images very quickly.