Home Netflix accused of using AI-altered images in true crime documentary

Netflix accused of using AI-altered images in true crime documentary


  • Netflix documentary "What Jennifer Did" allegedly uses AI-generated or manipulated images.
  • Images depict Jennifer Pan with distorted features, sparking concerns about bias.
  • Backlash ensues online, questioning Netflix's use of AI in content production.

Netflix has reportedly used what appear to be AI-generated or manipulated images in a recent true-crime documentary.

“What Jennifer Did” is about a murder-for-hire plot involving a woman named Jennifer Pan that took place in Canada back in 2010. The streaming service allegedly used photos to depict her personality, which her high school friend Nam Nguyen described as “bubbly, happy, confident, and very genuine.”

At around the 28-minute mark of the documentary, several images show Pan with twisted and distorted hands and fingers, misshapen facial features, objects in the background that have morphed, and an excessively long front tooth.

Screenshot of Jennifer Pan from Netflix documentary "What Jennifer Did". A young woman in a red dress stands in a room with a playful expression, making peace signs with both hands. The lighting casts colorful flares across the room, and there are various items and pictures on a dark shelf behind her. "NETFLIX" is displayed in the upper right corner, suggesting this is a screenshot from a Netflix production. A close-up of the same young woman, smiling broadly with her head tilted slightly. She's wearing a red dress, dangling earrings, and has her hand on her shoulder. The background is dark with a few light orbs, indicative of a low-lit environment. "NETFLIX" is visible in the upper right corner, indicating this is also from a Netflix show.
Jennifer Pan in the trailer of the Netflix true crime documentary “What Jennifer Did,” shows her with misshapen fingers. Credit: Netflix

However, in later pictures, the features have altered, for example, the previously long front tooth now appears uniform. If true, the report raises serious concerns about the use of such images in documentaries, especially since the suspect depicted is currently in prison awaiting a retrial.

Screenshot of Jennifer Pan from Netflix documentary "What Jennifer Did"
Jennifer Pan in trailer of Netflix true crime documentary “What Jennifer Did,” seen with what appears to be AI image manipulation. Credit: Netflix

AI image generators notoriously have a hard time making pictures of human hands. It’s hard to determine exactly what occurred during the editing process, but it’s possible that the producers used a single image as a source to create additional “photos.” However, the resulting output could be perceived as biased rather than impartially presenting the case facts.

Ontario’s Court of Appeal ordered a new first-degree murder trial for the Toronto-area woman in 2023, as the trial judge said the jury should have been given more options.

There has been backlash online, with one social media user accusing the service of relying on AI instead of hiring workers to do the job. Futurism writer Victor Tangermann stated: “Resorting to the tech to generate pictures of a real person, especially of somebody who’s still in jail and will only be eligible for parole around 2040, should raise some alarm bells.”

How does Netflix use AI?

Netflix uses AI to keep an eye on what users watch, what they like and what they rate highly. Then based on this information, it suggests other shows and movies that users are likely to find interesting.

The streaming service has a Machine Learning research hub to “explore innovative techniques for efficient estimation methods in predictive modeling, and how these models are applied in real-world, discrete survival settings.”

Netflix said it is focusing on off-policy estimation, crucial for policy evaluation and optimization, addressing challenges like distribution shift and large action spaces through innovative techniques like the Policy Convolution estimators. It also explores uncertainty quantification, empirical risk minimization under adaptive data, and efficient Bayesian deep learning methods, aiming to enhance risk improvement and generalization guarantees in machine learning applications.

The company has previously faced backlash from Hollywood actors and writers after posting a job ad for an AI expert. The ad, offering an annual salary of up to $900,000, exacerbated concerns among Hollywood unions about the impact of AI on the entertainment industry and wages.

ReadWrite has reached out to Netflix for comment.

Featured image: Netflix (Partial poster image)

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Suswati Basu
Tech journalist

Suswati Basu is a multilingual, award-winning editor and the founder of the intersectional literature channel, How To Be Books. She was shortlisted for the Guardian Mary Stott Prize and longlisted for the Guardian International Development Journalism Award. With 18 years of experience in the media industry, Suswati has held significant roles such as head of audience and deputy editor for NationalWorld news, digital editor for Channel 4 News and ITV News. She has also contributed to the Guardian and received training at the BBC As an audience, trends, and SEO specialist, she has participated in panel events alongside Google. Her…

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