BuzzFeed has been a massive success as a new media company. Indeed, the company was recently valued at $850 million after a $50 million round of funding, according to anonymous sources cited by The New York Times. However, BuzzFeed’s long history of plagiarism could undermine its valuation, so the site has been trying to quietly remove content.
Former Slate contributor Farhad Manjoo detailed how BuzzFeed would strip content from around the Web and repackage it for further distribution. At the time, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti defended this practice:
“It was almost more what we didn’t include that was the key to that post — we didn’t include inside jokes and memes that most people don’t understand. We took it down to its emotional core and made it more relatable to a general audience. That’s a service we provide, and we’re adding value by doing that.”
Allegations of plagiarism and journalistic impropriety kept rolling in, despite this explanation. And on Tuesday, Gawker discovered BuzzFeed had deleted nearly 5,000 posts. While Peretti told Slate the articles were deleted because they “didn’t meet its editorial standards,” the journalism community has been critical.
“Retracting a story is viewed as a serious blow to one’s journalistic credibility—and to do so without notifying readers is a cardinal sin,” wrote Will Oremus, Slate’s senior technology writer. “Journalistic organizations are supposed to stand behind everything they write, even if it was written years ago.”
Peretti explained that most of the posts were taken down because they were “technically broken, not sourced to our current standards, not worth improving or saving because the content isn’t very good” and they were almost surely posted before Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s first editor-in-chief, came on board.
At the time of this writing, BuzzFeed is the 43rd most trafficked website in the U.S., and the site has built a large degree of its following using content that was either plagiarized or heavily borrowed from other digital content on the Web. The site’s current attempts to gain legitimacy seem ham-fisted and don’t demonstrate that the company is ready become trusted source of journalism.
Peretti’s response to the deletions doesn’t inspire confidence: “We just didn’t and don’t look at that period of BuzzFeed as being a journalistic enterprise.”