The Metro website has been excused by the press regulator after reporting on a video that "will make you lose faith in humanity" which turned out to be a hoax.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation rejected a complaint against the title over its article headlined: "'Drunk girl in public' prank will make you lose faith in humanity". It was published on 11 Novemver last year.
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IPSO ruled that the website could not be accused of having failed to take appropriate care over the accuracy (clause 1 of the Editors' Code of Practice) of the article it published.
The article was about a video purporting to show a "prank" in which a woman pretending to be drunk asked men for help getting home.
Instead of helping the woman, most of the men in the video appeared to try to take advantage of her. The article described the video as an "alarming social experiment", and said that the reaction of the men was "eye-opening and upsetting".
The complainant said the article was inaccurate as it had emerged that the events shown in the video were staged. He provided a link to a video in which the participants explained that it was a hoax, and that all the men involved were actors.
The article was an example of "anti-male" propaganda, complainant Sean Farrell said.
The newspaper said the video was the subject of extensive research. It was picked up by the newspaper's video specialist, who alerts the newsdesk to videos with potential to go viral.
The video was uploaded by a YouTube channel which consisted largely of prank videos.
The pattern in the videos tended to be that one person pranked unsuspecting members of the public, the newspaper said, adding that it was clear that the "drunk girl" in the video was an actress, but was not clear that the men she approached were actors.
The newspaper said it had had no reason to believe that the men featured were not simply approached in the street.
It had had a number of editorial discussions about the story and had sought legal advice on identifying the individuals featured, but not on the authenticity of the video.
To avoid any risk of defamation, the newspaper said, it quoted directly from the men featured in the footage. Because of the pre-publication editorial process, the story was not published until 24 hours after the video was first drawn to the newspaper's attention.
A number of media outlets had published articles about the video, the newspaper said, adding that that the story had been of interest as, if this had been how the men had reacted, the article would have served as a warning.
It subsequently emerged that the video was staged, after which the newspaper appended a clarification to the article and published a follow-up piece explaining that the video was a hoax.
It also offered to remove the article and append the following correction to the follow-up piece: "An article published on 11 November contained the original YouTube video and incorrectly implied it was genuine. It later emerged the entire clip had, in fact, been staged. We apologise for any confusion this may have caused our readers."
IPSO's complaints committee said the article in question commented on the reactions as they were shown in the video, which it subsequently emerged that the video was a hoax, and apparently designed to mislead viewers into believing that the contents were genuine.
It noted the newspaper's account of the time it had taken to consider and discuss the publication of the article, and went on: "While it had been taken in by a hoax video, it had taken steps – including conducting an evaluation of the other content on the same YouTube channel – prior to the publication of the article to verity its authenticity."
The committee was satisfied that in the circumstances where was no failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the article.
But it went on: "The text of the article commented on the video as if the contents had been factual.
"The article clearly gave the significantly misleading impression that the reactions of the men had been genuine. As such, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) the newspaper had an obligation to correct the significantly misleading impression, promptly and with due prominence."
Publication of the follow-up article, and the newspaper's offer to append a correction to the follow-up article and remove the original article, were sufficient to fulfil its obligations under Clause 1 (ii), said the committee, adding that it welcomed the steps the newspaper had taken to address Farrell's concerns.