NEW YORK (AP) – Co-founder and CEO of fact-checking site Snopes.com has admitted plagiarism of dozens of articles written by mainstream news outlets over several years, calling the funds “badly wrong”.
From 2015 to 2019 – and possibly even earlier – David Mikkelson recorded material from the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and others to collect the web traffic, according to BuzzFeed News, which published the story on Friday.
Mikkelson used his own name, a generic Snopes byline, and a pseudonym when picking up material, including single sentences and whole paragraphs on topics like same-sex marriage and the death of David Bowie, without naming the sources, BuzzFeed and Snopes said.
He has been suspended from editorial production pending an internal review but remains CEO and 50 percent owner of the company, according to a statement from Snopes’ senior management.
“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 associates told BuzzFeed that he routinely encouraged the practice to make Snopes appear faster than it was.
Mikkelson didn’t immediately return an Associated Press email asking for comment on Saturday. He told BuzzFeed that his behavior was due to a lack of formal journalistic experience.
“I don’t have a journalistic background,” he said. “I wasn’t used to summarizing news. I’ve crossed the line several times when it came to copyright infringement. I own that. “
Founded under a different name by Mikkelson and his then-wife Barbara Hamel in 1994, Snopes has won two Webby Awards and was one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners between December 2016 and February 2019, BuzzFeed News said. In recent years, the website has been the focus of a controversial ownership battle between Mikkelson and the company that bought Hamels shares.
BuzzFeed News highlighted articles from a variety of media including The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, and the BBC. Six were originally published under the Mikkelson pseudonym Jeff Zarronandia, three under Mikkelson’s name and the rest as “Snopes Staff”. Snopes said it identified 140 stories with potential problems, including the 54 that contain appropriated material.
Snopes also cited AP material that was not properly attributed. It was not specified which stories.
Management said in the statement that Snopes will remove unassigned content while leaving individual pages behind. An editor’s note is used to outline the problems and point to original sources.
“We are in the process of archiving and withdrawing all offensive stories and disabling all monetization features for these posts,” the statement said. “We will try to contact any news agency whose coverage we have appropriated to issue an apology.”
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