The Huffington Post South Africa defended publishing a controversial piece — which argued that white men should lose the right to vote — only for it to turn out to be a hoax written by a troll under a fake identity.
The initial post (archive), published Thursday, was titled, “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men the Franchise?” and purportedly written by a feminist philosophy student named “Shelley Garland.”
“Some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause in the past year have often been due to the votes of white men,” the piece stated. “If white men were not allowed to vote, it is unlikely that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union, it is unlikely that Donald Trump would now be the President of the United States, and it is unlikely that the Democratic Alliance would now be governing four of South Africa’s biggest cities.”
“If white men no longer had the vote, the progressive cause would be strengthened. It would not be necessary to deny white men indefinitely — the denial of the vote to white men for 20 years (just less than a generation) would go some way to seeing a decline in the influence of reactionary and neo-liberal ideology in the world,” it continued, adding that although “it may be unfair . . . a moratorium on the franchise for white males for a period of between 20 and 30 years is a small price to pay for the pain inflicted by white males on others.”
Not surprisingly, the piece caused a widespread backlash, with outlets including the Washington Free Beacon, the Daily Caller, and NewsBusters covering it. But then, according to local news source The Citizen, a writer and editor in Cape Town named Laura Twigg did some investigating and found out that there was no record of this “Shelley Garland” at the University of Johannesburg, where she had claimed to be studying — and the whole thing fell apart.
HuffPo SA editor-in-chief Verashni Pillay published piece on Saturday announcing that it had taken Garland’s initial post down, acknowledging that Garland “appears not to exist” and promising to require bloggers to “verify themselves” in the future.
Now, presumably, Twigg had decided to look into the piece because she had found the content to be particularly shocking. But HuffPo South Africa didn’t find it shocking. In fact, before it was revealed to be a hoax, Pillay had published a piece (archive) defending the publication of Garland’s work. In the piece, Pillay explained that although HuffPo SA “doesn’t necessarily . . . agree or endorse everything in Garland’s blog” — adding that the purpose of the publication’s “Voices section is to invite a wide array of voices and views” — she was very surprised to see that it had sparked such an outrage.
“Garland’s underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory,” Pillay wrote.
“In that sense, there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody (or so we thought.) It would appear that perhaps much of the outcry derives from a very poor reading of the article — or perhaps none at all,” she continued. “Dismantling the patriarchal systems that have brought us to where we are today, a world where power is wielded to dangerous and destructive ends by men, and in particular white men, necessarily means a loss of power to those who hold it.”
(Yes, Pillay actually criticized other people for their “very poor reading of the article.” It’s almost too rich. Oh, and as for Pillay’s defense that HuffPo’s “Voices” page simply contains a “wide array of voices and views”? Well, that’s a joke. I feel confident in saying that there’s absolutely no way that an even potentially controversial piece from a conservative perspective would ever have been published, because I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a conservative piece on that page at all. Maybe it’s happened, who knows, but there’s no question that “wide array of voices and views” means “wide array of voices with liberal views.” Which is fine, have whatever slant you want, but at least own it.)
Make no mistake: If Pillay really did believe that she had no idea that Garland’s idea would create so much controversy, then she must be pretty tone-deaf. Yes, it is true that race-based institutional inequality is a problem, and that it’s a problem that bloggers often write about. But writing about these problems and their potential legal solutions is a completely different thing than earnestly suggesting that half of an entire racial group lose the right to vote for two decades.
The right to vote is a particularly sacred thing. In her whoops-we-messed-up piece, Pillay herself makes sure to state that HuffPost SA “stands aligned to the Constitutional values of South Africa, particularly the Preamble of our Constitution which states that: ‘We the people of South Africa believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.’”
“We further understand that universal enfranchisement followed a long struggle and we fully support this,” the post added.
Here’s the thing, though: An understanding of that “universal enfranchisement” and “long struggle” is exactly what led so many people to be shocked and outraged by Garland’s piece. It wasn’t just acknowledging problems or looking for solutions. Hell, it wasn’t even examining the theoretical merits of an extra-constitutional solution from a philosophical perspective. It was written as a sincere, unapologetic suggestion that a significant percentage of the country be stripped of their constitutional right to vote. Of course that’s going to get a powerful reaction — and, if Pillay really did understand voting rights the way she insists that she does, then she would have expected as much herself.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.