The sorry, censorious tale of that ‘deny men the vote’ article

The Huffington Post South Africa has been forced to apologise for publishing a piece reported to the Press Council of South Africa as ‘hate speech’. The article, titled ‘Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?’, argued it would be best if white men were deprived of their right to vote for a few decades. Blaming white men entirely for Brexit and Trump, it said ending white men’s suffrage would lead to a world in which ‘the violence of white male wealth and income inequality will be a thing of the past’.

The article has since been taken down, and the Huffington Post South Africa’s editor-in-chief, Verashni Pillay, has resigned. It turned out that Shelley Garland, the article’s author, doesn’t actually exist. Claiming to be a feminist activist, Garland is in fact a white South African man called Marius Roodt – he used a picture of himself in drag for Shelley’s headshot. The prank was intended to highlight the lack of ethical standards in the South African press.

The Huffington Post obviously saw nothing particularly questionable about the piece to begin with. Pillay even wrote a pathetic defence of it before the hoax was uncovered. She said the piece was ‘pretty standard for feminist theory’, and so ‘there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody’. ‘Perhaps much of the outcry derives from a very poor reading of the article’, she wrote. So not only does she deny publishing blatant clickbait — she also thinks we were all too stupid to understand it.

Press ombudsman Johan Retief ruled that the article constituted hate speech and ordered the Huffington Post to issue an unreserved apology. We might take a certain satisfaction from seeing such a right-on publication, known to rail against ‘hate speech’, getting in trouble for publishing a seemingly hateful article. But this doesn’t mean it should have been reported to the press regulator. Both Pillay and Roodt have now resigned from their jobs. And for what? A hoax article that some people agreed with and others were outraged by. The piece might have turned out to be fake, but the illiberal response to it was very real.

Christian Butler is a spiked columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @CPAButler

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