Guardian didn’t deactivate ‘Person of the Year’ poll because J.K. Rowling took the lead

4 January 2022
What was claimed

The Guardian deactivated its 2021 “Person of the Year” poll after J.K. Rowling took the lead.

Our verdict

The article was not a poll but a request for readers to nominate their “Person of the Year”. The responses were reported on 30 December, including Ms Rowling as a nominee. The Guardian regularly runs similar articles and deactivates submissions after a period of time. It did not publish a tally of the results.

“Guardian ‘Person of the Year’ Poll Deactivated After J.K. Rowling Takes Lead”

Breitbart has reported that the Guardian deactivated a “Person of the Year” poll shortly after Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling took the lead. It has suggested that this was due to contentious views held by the author. Ms Rowling’s statements about sex and gender issues, in particular relating to transgender people, have proved controversial. 

The Breitbart article contains a number of inaccuracies.

Firstly, the Guardian did not run a “poll”. It asked readers to contribute their own “Person of the Year” suggestions after TIME magazine awarded the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk the title. 

At no point in the Guardian article or in the submission form did it refer to it being a poll or indicate that the submissions would be counted and published in any quantitative manner.

The Guardian publishes many similar requests for readers’ views on a variety of topics and writes follow-ups about their submissions.

For example, a recent request for readers’ views on who should be the next James Bond was written up without any quantitative ranking of the candidates.

Then there’s the claim that J.K. Rowling was in fact leading this “poll”. 

Following the article’s publication on 15 December, there was a prominent activity on Twitter under the #IStandWithJKRowling hashtag to encourage people to vote for Ms Rowling.

The Guardian’s follow-up about the submissions noted that “many readers also nominated the author J.K. Rowling” and ran a reader’s submission on Ms Rowling in the piece.

But there’s also no clear evidence Ms Rowling was leading the “poll” as the Guardian didn’t publish a live tally of nominations (nor has one been published since). 

This seems to have been suggested by Twitter users as a possible reason for deactivation but was reported as fact in Breitbart’s headline.

Finally, the suggestion that the “poll” was deactivated because Ms Rowling was leading is not evidenced. 

The Guardian regularly deactivates submissions on similar audience-led stories.  

Its request for submissions for readers’ “Person of the Year” was published on 15 December, and submissions stopped being accepted as of, at the latest, 26 December, before it published its follow-up article about the responses on 30 December.

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson told Full Fact: "Contrary to what you may have read on Twitter, there was no poll, and the Guardian does not run a person of the year feature. Nothing has been cancelled.

“We regularly invite readers to share their views on issues in the news."

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Breitbart to request a correction regarding this claim.

They did not respond.

It’s not good enough.

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This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because while reader submissions on the article were deactivated, the article was not a poll and there is no clear evidence Ms Rowling had received the most submissions, and no evidence it was deactivated because of this.

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