The internet is filled with conspiracy theories ranging from the absurd to the plausible. Plenty of people online have questioned whether Will Smith’s assault of Chris Rock at the Academy Awards on Sunday was staged. But there’s a new twist to this conspiracy theory that we can safely debunk: No, Chris Rock wasn’t wearing a pad on his cheek when Will Smith slapped him.
After plenty of bad takes on Twitter on Sunday night about whether Rock deserved to get slapped for telling a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, there was a sizeable portion of online shit-stirrers who started to insist the whole thing was scripted.
Then, by Monday morning, the truly unhinged takes started, including a theory that not only was the slap staged, Rock was wearing a pad on his cheek to cushion the blow from Smith.
Nevermind the fact that a tiny pad on your cheek wouldn’t do much to shield your face while getting slapped. It had to be true. Because nothing is real anymore, right?
Well, let’s take a look at the photos from that night, captured by professional photographers and uploaded to professional photography websites accessed by Gizmodo, metadata and all.
Robyn Beck with the AFP took this photo on Sunday, which was distributed by Getty Images.
And if you zoom in you can see there doesn’t appear to be any padding on Rock’s cheek.
But could the AFP and Getty Images be in on the conspiracy? How about their competitor, the Associated Press? This photo was taken Sunday night by AP photographer Chris Pizzello.
And here we crop the image again to really get a proper look.
What’s the most likely explanation for why that viral image looks like there’s something on Chris Rock’s left cheek? There are two likely possibilities. The first is that someone deliberately photoshopped the image to make it look like there’s a prosthetic on Rock’s face. And that’s entirely possible. People are making fake images all the time, sometimes as jokes that get stripped of context when they’re passed around online, other times to intentionally deceive.
The other, and perhaps more likely, possibility is that someone used an “artificial intelligence” app in a naive attempt to get a better image. Apps like Remini are available for iPhone that allow people to “scale up” an image, but unsophisticated internet sleuths can easily misunderstand how they work.
Remini and other programs like it take an existing image that may be pixelated or have other loss of quality and try to guess what would make the image better. The program adds information rather by extrapolating from what’s already there.
The downside, of course, is that the AI is imperfect and doesn’t actually give you a more accurate version of what happened in the real world. The program is guessing what’s supposed to be there and sometimes adds more data based on its analysis—a guess, more or less. In this case, the app likely saw the dramatic creases on Rock’s face after getting slapped—a perfectly natural thing for a face to do after getting hit—and interpreted the bold lines as something that wasn’t there, filling in the rest.
Gizmodo tried doing this ourselves with the low-resolution top photo of a tweet that’s gone viral. We ran the image through a free version of Remini on iPhone:
And the app spat out this weirdness:
Granted, our version gave Rock a glossy shine of extra teeth on his lower lip and seems to have split his bottom row of teeth, but you get the idea. The app added a discoloration on Rock’s face that was merely the result of lights bouncing off his skin—the program believing in its robot brain that it was helping.
Again, we’re not sure what actually caused this particular image to look like something is on Rock’s face. But our tests provide an explanation that’s more plausible than the image currently circulating on social media.
Did Rock deserve to get slapped? That part is up to you. But for whatever it’s worth, Smith finally apologized to Rock on Monday, albeit through a public statement on Instagram. It’s unclear whether Smith apologized to Rock personally. Smith certainly didn’t include Rock in his original apology on stage at the Oscars after winning the award for Best Actor just 10 minutes after the slap.
Whatever happens next between the two, we can safely say Rock will probably be a little jumpy the next time he performs stand-up in public. And Smith will never live down the fact that he slapped someone on live TV during what was arguably the biggest night of his career.