Fact-checker Snopes apologizes for plagiarism

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

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

Mikkelson used his own name, a generic Snopes signature, and a pseudonym when he lifted material, including single sentences and entire paragraphs on topics such as gay 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 remains CEO and 50% shareholder of the company, according to a statement from senior management at Snopes.

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

In a separate statement, eight current Snopes writers also condemned Mikkelson’s actions, while former staff members told BuzzFeed that he regularly encourages the practice as a way to make Snopes appear faster than they are. ‘was.

Mikkelson did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Saturday. He told BuzzFeed his behavior was due to a lack of formal journalism experience.

“I’m not from journalism,” he says. “I wasn’t used to doing news aggregation. A number of times I have crossed the line where it was copyright infringement. I own this.

Created in 1994 under a different name by Mikkelson and his then-wife Barbara Hamel, Snopes won two Webby Awards and was one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners between December 2016 and February 2019, BuzzFeed said. News. In recent years, the site has been the subject of a contentious battle between Mikkelson and the company that bought Hamel’s shares.

BuzzFeed News reported articles from various media including the New York Times, CNN, NBC News and the BBC. Six were originally published under Mikkelson’s pseudonym Jeff Zarronandia, three under the Mikkelson name and the rest as “Staff Snopes”. Snopes said he identified 140 stories with possible problems, including 54 that contain relevant material.

Snopes also cited AP material that was not properly assigned. He did not specify which stories.

Senior management said in the statement that 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. “


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Virginia C. Taylor

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