Fact Check: Photo Of Mexico's President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum Has Been Digitally Edited To Mimic Antisemitic Meme

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Photo Of Mexico's President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum Has Been Digitally Edited To Mimic Antisemitic Meme Edited Image

Does an authentic photo of Claudia Sheinbaum, recently elected to be president of Mexico, bear an uncanny resemblance to the antisemitic "Happy Merchant" meme caricature? No, that's not true: The image was digitally manipulated to introduce some unflattering details that were not present in the original photo -- notably altering Sheinbaum's profile and changing the position of her neck. The original photo, dating back to 2019, shows Sheinbaum wearing a blue fashion shawl, walking across a stage with a printed Mexico City government backdrop.

The altered image appeared in a post on X (archived here) where it was published on June 9, 2024. It was captioned:

the ugly jewish woman who just became mexicos new president is literally just the happy merchant meme 😭

This is what the post looked like on X at the time of writing:


(Image source: X screenshot taken on Mon Jun 10 17:36:07 2024 UTC)

The original photo's background

The original photo appeared in an article published on Milenio (archived here) on February 20, 2019. At this time Sheinbaum was the head of government of Mexico City. The news article was about Mexico City promoting programs with UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The caption credited the photo agency Cuartoscuro (meaning darkroom):

Claudia Sheinbaum reported that they will collaborate on several projects with the UNAM in the city. (Cuartoscuro)

Lead Stories was unable to locate the original image in the Cuartoscuro database, but the Alamy stock photo website features another image from the same day, February 20, 2019. It shows Sheinbaum posing with Princess Astrid of Belgium at another location at the City Hall of Mexico. In this photo, as with the Cuartoscuro image, Sheinbaum is wearing the same outfit, a black skirt, white blouse and long blue shawl and holding her hands together in front of her body. This posture is a practical way to keep the shawl draped over her forearms.

The 'Happy Merchant' meme

Lead stories will not reproduce the "Happy Merchant" caricature mentioned in the X post here. The knowyourmeme.com entry, which does include the image, begins with this description:

Happy Merchant, also known as Jew-bwa-ha-ha.gif, is a derogatory illustration of a Jewish man based on antisemitic characterizations of Jewish people, including a yarmulke, long nose, full beard, malevolent smile and rubbing hands together, which implies conspiratorial or manipulative behavior. Mainly posted on politicalimageboards, such as 4chan's /pol/ and 4chan's /new/, it is used both ironically and to spread antisemitic ideologies.

Digitally edited images

The Lead Stories composite image below shows the original image (left) compared to the edited copy (right). In the edited version, the entire head and neck have been lowered, giving Sheinbaum a shorter, seemingly hunchbacked posture. Her profile has been altered, enlarging her nose and tipping it downward, and her derriere was flattened entirely. While Sheinbaum is touching her hands together, she is not making the gesture implied in the "Happy Merchant" meme.


(Image source: Lead stories composite image with cdn.milenio.com and X screenshots taken on Mon Jun 10 19:16:05 2024 UTC)

This altered image was also used to produce a faked screenshot, a form of information laundering, which appeared in a June 1, 2024, post on X (archived here). An image (below left) from a real September 26, 2023 Times of Israel article (archived here) titled, "Everything you need to know about the Jewish woman leading Mexico's presidential race" was swapped with this altered image. Without changing the photo caption, the altered photo was presented as if it had appeared in a real news article.


(Image source: Lead Stories composite image with timesofisrael.com and X screenshots taken on Mon Jun 10 20:17:24 2024 UTC)

An additional Lead Stories fact check concerning Claudia Sheinbaum can be found here.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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