Poe: A person who writes a parody of a Fundamentalist that is mistaken for the real thing. Due to Poe’s Law, it is almost impossible to tell if a person is a Poe unless they admit to it.
A Huffington Post South Africa article went viral recently — for the bad kinds of reasons — and was snapped up and hated on by the entire Internet. I, however, was immediately pretty sceptical™ and I think with good reason.
It’s pretty provocatively titled “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?” (see afterword), and goes on to make pretty much exactly that argument. It gets off to a rolling start with “some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause in the past year have often been due to the votes of white men”, and goes on to link whiteness with capitalism, with liberalism, libertarian and conservatism (which are all dismissed as the same ideology, alike in that they “focus on individuals and individual responsibility, rather than group affiliation”, which is a bad thing), with toxic masculinity and with, finally, the Great Recession. It argues for a temporary hiatus on the white male vote for twenty to thirty years, along with a healthy dose of wealth redistribution. This, apparently, will fight back against toxic masculinity, solve world politics, destroy neo-liberalism and — my favourite — pay the “historical debt that they owe society”.
My three favourite paragraphs happen to be in sequence. I’m not here to respond, but I’ll just show them as a snapshot of the whole thing.
It is no surprise that liberalism – and its ideological offshoots of conservatism and libertarianism – are the most popular ideologies among white males. These ideologies with their focus on individuals and individual responsibility, rather than group affiliation, allow white men to ignore the debt that they owe society, and from acknowledging that most of their assets, wealth, and privilege are the result of theft and violence.
Some may argue that this is unfair. Let’s be clear, it may be unfair, but 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, particularly those with black, female-identifying bodies. In addition, white men should not be stripped of their other rights, and this withholding of the franchise should only be a temporary measure, as the world rights the wrongs of the past.
A withholding of the franchise from white males, along with the passing of legislation in this period to redistribute some of their assets, will also, to a degree, act as the reparations for slavery, colonialism, and apartheid, which the world is crying out for to be paid.
It was pretty clearly written to offend and provoke, and that’s precisely what it did. Milo Yiannopoulos, of all people, picked it up on Facebook, and shortly after that it was all over the place.
Before long it was snapped up by Breitbart proper, by the Washington Free Beacon and even by Fox News. It started doing the rounds on the “”””””””””new media”””””””””” as well, of course. Got very popular on Twitter and soon videos started to appear. “It’s very rare that I actually read an article that chills my blood, curls my stomach”, says T.J. Kirk, “but today I did. So thank you Huffington Post, for shocking me with the despicable evil that you are willing to publish on your website” (by far the most eloquent drug-addicted neckbeard on YouTube IMO).
I was not convinced. I quickly checked the author’s profile on the website and Googled the name — lady called “Shelley Garland” — and found pretty much nothing, so I sent out my own tweet in which I said I didn’t think she existed, which promptly got pretty popular. I don’t believe this author is actually real. I believe Shelley Garland is a Poe.
To start with, she has published literally one article, and I can’t find anything related to her online.I searched all of the Shelley Garlands on Facebook and LinkedIn; I imagine a university student writing for the Huffington Post should have at least one of those. Nothing.
Not wanting to give up I got creative, and looked for South African universities offering philosophy & ethics courses, of which there are four. There’s no way I can find any complete student lists (which pleases me, actually), but I typed her name into all of their search bars and got nothing, so she must have kept a low profile.
There is a @ShelleyGarland Twitter account, but it’s suspended at the time of writing, and unfortunately I couldn’t find any archives of what it looked like. There is a @garland_shelley, but this is definitely not real, considering the account was made at approximately the same time I sent my tweet.
Have a closer look at the language the article and the writer’s profile use. “When she’s not gagging at South Africa’s unique brand of rainbow politics, she’s working on ways to smash the patriarchy”, is pretty telling. How about “black, female-identifying bodies”? If you make it to “reparations for slavery, colonialism, and apartheid”, and alarm bells aren’t going off in your head, then your view of humanity is far more pessimistic than mine.
I don’t claim to have pioneered the thought Shelley Garland isn’t real, but it was certainly an idea that I had and one that has gained traction. Breitbart picked up on it:
Social media users also speculated on the likelihood of Shelley Garland merely being a pseudonym, with some pointing out her lack of presence on the internet besides The Huffington Post. A parody account for Garland created after the article was published joked about the amount of “[white male] tears” shed for the piece, and rejected the notion she was a work of fiction.
I doubt that’s me being referred to, but it’s someone. In a way the Internet makes us all equal. I’m not saying anything for definite and I could rather easily be wrong, but I think there’s a pretty convincing case this is an article written under a pseudonym. Whether the writer is a troll or just doesn’t want to put their face to their thoughts I leave up to you, and I’d be a hypocrite if I railed against the latter; but in either case the fact remains that Huffington Post South Africa — and by extension Chief Editor (I will not say editor-in-chief) Verashni Pillay — actually published it. They actually signed off on it. This was cleared by them. This racist, sexist piece of authoritarian trash was something they decided to put up on their website with their name.
That point stands whether the author is real or not, and it stands whether the pseudonym was adopted by a troll or not. In case you think I’m being too harsh, another article was actually posted today by Mrs. Pillay herself: “This Blog On White Men Is Going Viral. Here’s Our Response” (see afterword). Of course, it has the obligatory “this doesn’t necessarily mean we agree or endorse everything in Garland’s blog” copout, but this is difficult to reconcile with the fact Pillay chose to write an article coming to the defence of Garland. Why do that if not to prop up her views? They could have just flatly denied any association with the content under fire if they wanted to avoid having their good name dragged through the mud, but the thing is they didn’t:
Garland’s underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory. It has been espoused in many different ways by feminist writers and theorists for decades now. 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. 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. A loss of oppressive power. Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.
Why an article? Why not just a statement? In fact, why do anything?
I am reminded of T.J.’s words. It’s very rare that I actually read an article that chills my blood, curls my stomach, but today I did. So thank you Huffington Post, for shocking me with the despicable evil that you are willing to publish on your website.
I fucking called it! They’ve removed the previous posts and published another, where they say they that they did it “because the blog submission from an individual who called herself Shelley Garland, who claimed to be an MA student at UCT, cannot be traced and appears not to exist”.
The first two posts are gone, and my links lead to the new one. It looks like they rewrote both to say the same thing and added a third, which has created the strange situation where the top three trending articles on the website are all the same, despite their different addresses. I foresaw something like this, fortunately; the first is archived here, and the second here. On the off-chance this third article is also gotten rid of in the future, I’ve snapped it here. You can try to cover your tracks, but the Internet never forgets.
What does it mean that they did this? First of all, of course, it means they failed to verify their writer, so they agree with the rest of us that Shelley Garland probably isn’t real, and therefore they jumped the gun hilariously with their follow-up. Of course, it still does not mean that Shelley Garland was a troll, because any self-respecting chief editor would remove an article they didn’t know was written under a pseudonym, regardless of what its purpose was. As I said above, however, this doesn’t matter: they published it, and a writer who was not verified was credited. The views expressed were obviously given credibility, whether or not the writer was just having a laugh.
South Africa has hate speech laws, which are quoted in a slightly apologetic fashion in the article, and honestly I reckon they’ve been violated. Denying white men the franchise pretty obviously “refer[s] to people’s status in a prejudicial or pejorative context”, and I’d say it also amounts to “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”. But that’s just me. I don’t want Huffington Post South Africa to go to court for hate speech, I should make clear. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t believe hate speech exists, and I’ll rush to their defence if anything happens.
I just think it’s a bit funny.