CHARLIE DE HAAS AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3243

Council Meeting: March 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Privacy

Overview

1. On February 22, 2022m, Stuff published an article “It’s like a cult’; How anti-vaccine “mumfluencers” are fuelling the Parliament occupation”.  Charlie de Haas complains the article breaches Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Principle 2, Privacy; Principle 4, Comment and Fact; Principle 6, Headlines and Captions; Principle 7, Discrimination and Diversity.

2. The article reports on the role of “mumfluencers” and how they have played into the disinformation and misinformation that sits around vaccinations and Covid-19. Stuff says Mumfluencers are a subset of influencers, people who harness their large social media followers to influence potential buyers of a product or service through social media recommendations conveyed by text, image and hashtags. The work of influencers is highly curated, especially on Instagram, a picture and text app, and alongside product recommendations and advertisements. It also often features persuasive posts and images that can also be read as a call to some kind of action; political, social and psychological. Of late many mumfluencers around the world have been questioning the efficacy of vaccination and other health- measures under the guise of wellness, choice and natural immunity.

In the Aotearoa New Zealand context, the disinformation and misinformation has been critical in the development of Covid-19 pandemic scepticism which has fuelled the protests which culminated in the recent occupation of Parliament’s grounds and wider areas of the Wellington central business district.

3. In the article Ms de Haas is one of eight female influencers included in the article, alongside two specialists critiquing influencers and their role in the communication of Covid-19 misinformation. Two women also featured were sceptical about the behaviour and posts of influencers and say how they were affected around vaccination and Covid-19 matters.

4. Ms De Haas features in a single paragraph that follows another dealing with the anti-vaccine mandate occupation at Parliament and the media council noted the views of other anti-vaxxers were quoted more extensively.

5. “Sending so much love to everyone in Wellington, standing up for their rights, standing up to make a change,” wrote entrepreneur Charlie de Haas, who is sponsored by activewear brand aim’n (@charliedehaas, 20,000 followers). It’s not anti-vax, it’s PRO CHOICE…this segregation is not right.”

The Complaint

6. Charlie de Haas says she is making the complaint because the quote used in the story was “pulled from my Instagram account” and as “aim’n is my place of work and now I am seeing back lash (SIC) and emotional distress for myself and the business.”  She says she has “never claimed to be anti-vaccine, instead I try to share from a place of love and compassion without judgement”.  She says “the publication has said that I am anti-vaccine and also a muminfluencer – which I am not. I am mostly concerned about my work and the defamation that is now happening.

7. Her complaints are specific to breaches Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Principle 2, Privacy; Principle 4, Comment and Fact; Principle 6, Headlines and Captions; Principle 7, Discrimination and Diversity.

The Response

8. Stuff acting editor in chief Janine Fenwick responded to the complaint. In the first instance she notes de Haas was approached twice for comment and no response was made to general or specific criticisms. Fenwick states in her communication with de Haas she does not accept that there is any inaccuracy in the story, or that it requires editing.

9. Fenwick says the direct quote in the story is take from Ms de Haas’ Instagram account and clearly outlines she is ‘pro-choice’ indicating her position is clear.

10. Fenwick continues “a number of your posts were ads for Aim’n activewear, tagged #ad and offering discount codes. She says this is sponsorship as the account does not declare her employment with them.

11. Fenwick offered to clarify the story to say Ms de Haas was an Aim’n activewear employee if that was the case.

12. Outside of that she says Stuff will not be making any changes to the article.

The Discussion

13. Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance: This principle is clear and no article should deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In her argument Ms de Haas presents it as her primary view that the article has affected her work. She says as the ‘creative growth manager’ at aim’n the article has resulted in backlash to her employment, the aim’n business and her reputation. In addition, she says that as a result of the “words” her work is impacted and this has caused “serious emotional distress”. She continues that she has never written she is an anti-vaxxer, and nor is she a mumfluencer, and as such she says the article is a breach of Media Council principles.

14. We note the article does not call her an anti-vaxxer.  Instead, it takes a quote from her Instagram account where all material is public and which has more than 20,000 followers.

15. She raises defamation as an issue but this is a quote of something she has said so it cannot be defamation. 

16. The article is balanced and offers views from many sides of the debate and there is only one paragraph referring to Ms de Haas.

17. The council does note that Ms de Haas is at one end of the spectrum of people covering the space from anti-vax to pro-choice and her views may not be seen as extreme as others that are reported about, immediately after the quote from her site.

18. Principle 2 - Privacy; People are entitled to privacy.  In this story the sole quote is from a very public Instagram account with more than 20,000 followers.

19. Principle 4 - Comment and Fact; This is a news feature.  It is not a comment or opinion piece.

20. Principle 6 - Headlines and Captions; The headline is a summation or reflection of the content of the long form news story while the captions within the story are plain and simple and serve to identify who is pictured or quoted.

21. Principle 7 - Discrimination and Diversity. This news article is about the intersection of women with large social media followings who are able to promote views, products and stories to a mostly female audience. There is nothing in the story that is related to faith, age, race, ethnicity, colour and disability of any kind. The story does not breach this principle.

22. The complaint was not upheld. Two members of the council felt Stuff could have taken more care with the positioning of the reference to Ms de Haas.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher (chair) Hank Schouten, Tim Watkins, Jonathan MacKenzie, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Liz Brown, Katrina Bennett, Reine Vaai and Richard Pamatatu.

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