Co-Founder of Fact-Checking Site Snopes Was Writing Plagiarized Pieces Under a Pseudonym
Snopes is a fact-checking website most Twitter users rely on when engaged in disseminating online misinformation, and David Mikkelson, its co-founder, has always presented himself as a teller of truth online. Snopes has long been treated as a reliable verifier of information online, but now it’s been revealed that the self-proclaimed leader in the fight against rumors and fake news has been lying to the site’s tens of millions of readers.
A BuzzFeed News investigation by Dean Sterling Jones found that between 2015 and 2019, Mikkelson wrote and published dozens of articles containing material plagiarized from news outlets such as The Guardian and the LA Times. While plenty of sites aggregate news stories–Hill Reporter is one–proper credit is expected to be given to the source. What BuzzFeed has uncovered paints a devastating picture of one editor who used unethical practices to try to gain more credibility and more online traffic, which may end up damaging the site’s reputation as well as his own.
After inquiries from BuzzFeed News, Snopes conducted an internal review and confirmed that under a pseudonym, the Snopes byline, and his own name, Mikkelson wrote and published 54 articles with plagiarized material. The articles include such topics as same-sex marriage licenses and the death of musician David Bowie.
The Snopes tea is hot. 😲 https://t.co/0E2sbDlr3Y
— I ❤️ KITTENS (@DPMCanty) August 13, 2021
Snopes VP of Editorial and Managing Editor Doreen Marchionni suspended Mikkelson from editorial duties pending “a comprehensive internal investigation.” He remains an officer and a 50% shareholder of the company. Mikkelson, who has been suspended from “editorial duties”, released an apologetic statement where he said, “There is no excuse for my serious lapses in judgment. I’m sorry.”
Right after Trump was elected, Snopes wrote a defamatory article about me (based on an article that I didn’t even write!) that incited mass harassment of me. I’m not at all surprised by the expose on how they really operate. They slander for clicks. Thread from 2016: https://t.co/XBai7LECAJ
— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) August 13, 2021
Snopes told BuzzFeed News it plans to retract all of the offending stories and disable advertising on them. It will also append an editor’s note of explanation to each. The senior management staff has also issued its own statement of apology on the Snopes website.
I've said this privately and now I will say it publicly: For the founder of Snopes to write his ex-wife out of the site and its history when she clearly did most of its best work — something @brooklynmarie flagged long ago — should have been a real clue something was wrong
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) August 13, 2021