Time magazine rejects fabricated ranking of 'leaders most likely to harm world'

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Social media users in South Korea have repeatedly shared a false claim that Time magazine created a list of leaders most likely to harm the world, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Russia's Vladimir Putin topping the ranking. A Time spokesperson said the claim was inaccurate, while AFP found no trace of such a list on the publication's website, as of November 28.

"Gyong ranked No. 2? The presidential office should work harder [to top the list]," reads a Korean-language claim Facebook post shared on November 1.

"Gyong" is a derogatory nickname for South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The post shows an image with Korean text that reads: "Selected by Time Magazine. A list of world leaders who would be most likely to harm the world.

"No. 1 Xi Jinping / No. 2 Yoon Suk-yeol / No. 3 Putin."

It shows a caricature of Yoon and the flags of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan -- although Japan's leader is not mentioned.

"[Yoon] put his trousers on the wrong way round and doesn't even know how to do square-bashing properly," the text adds, referring to unverified social media claims that the leader put his trousers on backwards at a press conference and that he deliberately insulted the army by making mistakes during a military drill.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on November 28, 2022.

Yoon, a lifelong prosecutor with no prior experience in elected office, has become a regular target of disinformation in South Korea, fuelled by his dire approval ratings and what analysts describe as a string of mishaps since he came to power in May.

Similar Facebook posts shared the same purported ranking here, here and here.

Some social media users appeared to believe the posts showed a genuine Time magazine list.

"Yoon outperformed Kim Jong-un. What an absolute plonker," reads a user comment written in Korean.

Another apparently sarcastic comment reads: "Oh wow, but he is still behind Xi Jinping. He's got to try harder! We can't let China beat us."

However, the claim is false.

Fabricated ranking

A representative for Time said the publication did not create such a ranking.

"This list is not a TIME published list," the spokesperson told AFP on November 26.

AFP found no ranking of the world's most harmful leaders on the magazine's website, as of November 28.

Time did include Yoon on its TIME100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2022. Yoon's entry refers to his calls for a tougher stance towards North Korea as concerns grow that Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear testing.

Yoon's name did not appear in any of the latest list of "world's most dangerous leaders", including this one released by the US-based international relations magazine Foreign Affairs.

AFP has previously debunked misinformation about the South Korean president, including here and here.