Amazon, Facebook, Google hanged for 'high treason': The fake Time cover loved by conspiracy theorists

·3-min read

Conspiracy theorists have been circulating a fake cover of Time magazine since 2018 that shows faceless figures bearing the logos of US media and tech companies being hanged. The doctored image has started circulating again – this time on Spanish-language Telegram channels.

An image made to look like the cover of Time magazine has been circulating widely on Telegram channels popular among Spanish-speaking conspiracy theorists. Our fact-checking colleagues at Malditas.es noticed the trend and set about debunking it.

The post shared alongside the photo reads, “Latest cover of Time. Could this be linked to the possible blackout that will hit Europe?” It 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 on October 6 to plan for such a possibility.

The image shows faceless human figures hanging from the letters that spell out "Time". The dark silhouettes are covered with the logos of media and communications companies including Netflix, the Washington Post, Reddit, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. The phrase “high treason” appears in white across 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 real cover for October 25, 2021, somewhat ironically features Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook – not the image of the hanging silhouettes.

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

A reverse image search (click here to see how) reveals that this image has been circulating since at least 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 a 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 right corner.

Another version of the fake cover has the date of 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 among 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 US 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

People often do mock-ups of the covers of Time magazine, which is known for using powerful images. Altered versions of the cover from July 2, 2018, also circulated – some for and others against Donald Trump.

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