Social media users are sharing a photo they say shows a body double that replaced US Senator John Fetterman after he admitted himself to the hospital in February 2023 for clinical depression. This is false; the picture cited as evidence is almost one year old, and the claims ignore the fact that camera lenses and lighting can change how a person looks.

"In only 3 weeks, John Fetterman got a total head replacement," said "Catturd," an account popular with supporters of former US president Donald Trump, in a March 24, 2023 tweet.

The post and others like it on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms juxtaposed two photos of the Pennsylvania Democrat, suggesting they show a different person.

"I think a DNA sample is in order, here," said Juanita Broaddrick, a Trump supporter who has accused former president Bill Clinton of rape, in a tweet comparing the supposedly recent picture to another image of Fetterman.

"LOL. That’s not Fetterman on the right."


Screenshot from Twitter taken March 25, 2023


Screenshot from Twitter taken March 25, 2023

Other posts used the image to claim Fetterman looked "different" or had been replaced by a "new Fetterman," "Fetterman 2.0," a "fake," a "dupe," a "stunt double," a "body double," a "robot" or a "clone." Some suggested the senator had secretly died, while others claimed his hospital stay was a pretext for the alleged replacement to get "plastic surgery."

Supporters of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, as well as conservative commentators and websites such as the Gateway Pundit, further amplified the narrative.

"Who is this pictured with Fetterman's wife?" said George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser who in 2017 pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, in a March 24 tweet.


Screenshot from Twitter taken March 25, 2023

The posts came amid reports that Fetterman was preparing to return from Walter Reed Medical Center, the Maryland hospital where he has been receiving treatment for clinical depression. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May 2022 while campaigning for the US Senate, a seat he narrowly won in the November 2022 election against celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz.

But there is no evidence that Fetterman has been replaced by a "body double." He has appeared in other photos shared by his wife Gisele and chief of staff during his stint in the hospital.

AFP reached out to Fetterman's Senate office for comment, but no response was forthcoming.

Photo is old

Reverse image searches show the picture shared online is nearly one year old -- it was featured in May 2022 news reports about Fetterman's discharge from the hospital after his stroke.

The articles credit the photo to Fetterman's campaign. Gisele Barreto Fetterman also posted a video of the moment on Twitter.

PimEyes, a facial recognition search engine, matched the photo to other pictures of Fetterman.

Even a top QAnon promoter on Telegram refuted claims that the image shows a body double.

"Those who don’t know how to critically think through situations and spout whatever conspiracy theory aligns with their confirmation bias are fueling the (mainstream media) attacks against all of us," said Jordan Sather, referencing a Newsweek article debunking the conspiracy theory.

Normal camera effects

There are mundane reasons why Fetterman looks slightly different in the two pictures shared online.

The focal length of a camera's lens and exposure to light can distort people's faces in photos. A Pennsylvania State University tool shows the effects of changing the focal length and exposure.

David Brady, a professor of optical sciences at the University of Arizona, told AFP the camera's lens likely played a role in the difference between the photos of Fetterman, but that the lighting is "probably the biggest factor."

"Of course, the difference in his expression makes his brow lines different, but the right photo is illuminated by a bright source from the right which causes the face to look smooth and emphasizes the side of the face close to the light," Brady said in an email. "The left photo is diffusely illuminated, which presents a balanced view of both sides of the face. These effects are very common in light stage photos."

AFP has previously debunked "body double" claims targeting American football player Damar Hamlin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.