Fact-checker admits years of plagiarism

NEW YORK – The co-founder and CEO of fact-checking website snopes.com admitted to plagiarizing dozens of mainstream media articles over several years, calling the credits “serious errors in judgment.”

From 2015 to 2019 – and possibly earlier – David Mikkelson included material from the Los Angeles Times, Guardian and others to capture web traffic, according to BuzzFeed News, which released the story on Friday.

Mikkelson used his own name, a generic Snopes signature, and a pseudonym when he lifted up material, including single sentences and entire paragraphs on topics such as same-sex marriage and the death of David Bowie, without citing the sources, said BuzzFeed and Snopes.

He has been suspended from editorial production pending the conclusion of an internal review, but he remains the CEO and a 50% shareholder of the company, according to a statement from senior management at Snopes.

“Let’s be clear: plagiarism undermines our mission and our values, period. It has no place in any context within this organization,” the statement said.

Former staff members have told BuzzFeed that they regularly encourage the practice as a way to make Snopes appear faster than they are.

Mikkelson told BuzzFeed his behavior was due to a lack of formal journalism experience.

“I don’t come from a journalism background,” he said. “I was not used to doing information aggregation. A number of times I have crossed the line where it was copyright infringement. I own this.”

Founded in 1994 under a different name by Mikkelson and his then-wife Barbara Hamel, Snopes was one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners between December 2016 and February 2019, BuzzFeed News reported.

BuzzFeed News reported articles from various media including the New York Times, CNN, NBC News and the BBC. Snopes said he had identified 140 stories with possible issues, 54 of which included relevant material.

Senior management at the company said Snopes was removing unassigned content while leaving individual pages. An editor’s note will be used to describe the issues and link to the original sources.

“We are archiving and removing all offending stories, as well as disabling all monetization features on these posts,” the statement said. “We will try to reach out to every media outlet whose stories we have appropriated to apologize.”

Virginia C. Taylor