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‘Senior photo’ of Matt Gaetz is fabricated

April 15, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Photo shows the Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as a senior in high school with a mullet hairstyle and a tuxedo.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Altered photo. Gaetz’s face was superimposed onto a different man’s portrait, which has been circulating as a meme online for at least 11 years.

THE FACTS: The viral image shows a young man resembling Gaetz in an apparent school portrait. He wears a tuxedo and a mullet hairstyle, with blond locks that are short and curly on top but long and straight on the sides. 

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Twitter and Facebook users shared the image this week with captions claiming it showed a high school senior picture of Gaetz.

“Any time Matt Gaetz tweets just respond with his senior photo,” several social media users wrote.

The posts amassed thousands of likes and shares as Gaetz continued to face a House Ethics Committee probe and a federal investigation for sex trafficking allegations involving underage girls.

However, the image is not genuine. A reverse-image search reveals Gaetz’s face was superimposed onto an image of a different young man. 

The original image has been circulating in internet memes as far back as 2010, with captions such as, “Business on top, party on the sides.” The version of the image featuring Gaetz’s face has only circulated in recent days, as the accusations against Gaetz have appeared in media reports.

No. 2 House Republican leader Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said Wednesday that party leaders would “take action” against Gaetz if the Justice Department’s investigation results in the agency formally moving against the Florida lawmaker.

A frequent face on conservative television networks and an ardent ally of former President Donald Trump, Gaetz has broadly denied the accusations and not been charged with any crimes. He serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, and critics have said he should immediately be removed from the Judiciary panel because it oversees the Justice Department.

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A Gaetz representative with the PR firm Logan Circle Group sent The Associated Press a statement reiterating the lawmaker’s denial of the allegations and confirming the image was fake.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536