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The fake Time cover loved by conspiracy theorists

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Conspiracy theorists have been circulating a fake cover of Time Magazine since 2018, showing figures covered with the logos of American technology and media companies being hanged. Despite being a doctored image, it started circulating again – this time on certain Spanish-language Telegram channels.

An image supposed to represent the most recent cover of the American magazine Time has been circulating widely on Telegram channels popular amongst Spanish-speaking conspiracy theorists. Our fact-checking colleagues at Malditas.es noticed the trend and set about to debunk it.

The post shared alongside this photo says, “Latest cover of Time. Could this be linked to the possible blackout that will hit Europe?” This is a reference to a rumour that has widely circulated amongst conspiracy theorists that all of Europe will soon be hit with an electricity blackout. The rumour is linked to the Austrian Defence Minister’s decision to launch a programme to plan for and manage this possibility, which kicked off on October 6.

The image shows human figures being hung from the letters that spell out Time. The figures are represented as dark silhouettes and their bodies are covered with the logos of many large media and communications organisations, including Netflix, the Washington Post, Reddit, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. The phrase “high treason” is written out in white to the left of the image. 

Why it’s fake

There are a few clues that show us that this cover is actually fake. 

First of all, you can check out all of Time Magazine’s covers at this link – and there is no sign of this one. The cover on October 25, 2021 actually, and somewhat ironically, features Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook – not the image with the silhouettes covered with media logos, as many of these posts claim.

The next issue, due out on November 8, shows several world leaders attending COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference being held in Glasgow this year. Once again, nothing to do with the hanging figures. 

Moreover, this false cover isn’t new – it has been circulating for a long time.

If you carry out a reverse image search (click here to check out how), then you will find that this image has been circulating at least since July 2018. It shows up in the archives of several blogs and forums populated by the far-right and conspiracy theorists based in both the United States and elsewhere (for example, it shows up on this Italian blog).

The fake cover has also been circulating on Twitter since summer 2018. Far-right users often post it when they are frustrated with official media sites like CNN or even Time Magazine itself.

The fake Time cover may have been designed using the real cover from July 2, 2018. That issue shows Donald Trump looking at a little Honduran girl, who is crying. Some versions of the fake cover actually have that date in the upper-righthand corner. 

Another version of the fake cover has the date August 26, 2019. But the actual cover released on this day features the rapper Lil Nas X. 

Our fact-checking colleagues at Maldita also noted that, in some versions of the image, Fox News appears on the silhouette farthest to the left. In other versions, however, this media outlet popular amongst Donald Trump fans has been removed (like in this image). 

We also found this version of the fake cover, which featured the symbol of the Republican Party (the elephant) and the Democratic Party (the donkey) as well as the logos of several American institutions. 

In the latest chapter of this saga, users on the Rafapal telegram channel, where the image had been circulating widely up until recently, actually recognised it as a fake. It has since disappeared from the channel.

Other fake covers

It’s pretty common for people to, in one way or another, make plays on the covers of Time Magazine, which is known for having both powerful and visual cover images. There were actually a few different altered versions of the cover from July 2, 2018 that circulated – some for and some against Donald Trump. 

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