The surfacing of an unusually smooth-faced politician in the UK sparked a fiery debate on social media last week.

Mark Matlock, a candidate for right-wing populist party Reform UK, immediately raised suspicions with a profile picture that looked like it came straight out of a low-grade AI image generator.

"Reform UK appear to have fielded a fake candidate made with AI, Mark Matlock," one user tweeted. "Look at his hair, AI-generated. It is a crime to field fake candidates and must be investigated immediately."

"We might be on the verge of a HUGE SCANDAL," another account wrote. "Suspicions have been raised that Reform have fielded election candidates that aren’t real people."

But Matlock has now come forward, insisting that his extremely photoshopped-looking visage is in fact real — at least to some extent.

"I am a real person and that is me in the photo," he told The Independent over the phone. "Though I must admit I am enjoying the free publicity and when I feel up to it I will put out a video and prove these rumors that I’m a robot are absolute baloney."

Adding to the drama, Matlock was unable to show up during the country's election last week. Now he claims he "got pneumonia three days before election night."

"I was exercising taking vitamins so I could attend but it was just not viable," he told The Independent. "On election night I couldn’t even stand."

As for the obviously tinkered-with photo, Matlock said that he had asked Reform UK to make substantial changes to a real photo of him standing outside a museum in Oxford.

"I had the background removed and replaced with the logo and they changed the color of my tie," Matlock told the newspaper. "The only reason that was done was because we couldn’t get a photographer at such short notice — but that is me."

And was there some sort of beauty filter that turned his face into something that looks even more fake than what a current AI generator can come up with?

Regardless, the candidate's rushed race to get on the ballot doesn't exactly instill confidence, especially for a party that has already been embroiled in plenty of controversy. Last month, three of its candidates were dropped following reports that they made racist comments, including derogatory statements regarding the IQ of sub-Saharan Africans and that Black people should "get off [their] lazy arses."

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage was also a figurehead of the UK's Brexit campaign in 2016, an ill-advised move that has turned out to be incredibly unpopular.

In last week's elections, Farage's party secured just one percent of seats in parliament, representing 14 percent of voters.

While Matlock says he's definitely a flesh-and-blood human, there was another candidate who wasn't shy to reveal he was actually AI.

A bizarre avatar dubbed "AI Steve" appeared on the ballot, running to represent constituents in the south of England. He only scored 179 votes, a mere 0.3 percent, losing out to the Green party's Siân Berry, who received well over 28,000 votes.

In short, only one thing seems certain about AI in elections: things are starting to get very, very weird.

More on AI elections: ChatGPT Is Giving Bad Info About Where to Vote in Battleground States

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