You may have heard that BuzzFeed recently landed $50 million in venture capital, with which it hopes to transcend its long-time status as a “content laboratory” for shareable listicles, strange quizzes and LOL-worthy videos. Earlier this year, however, the viral news website went with a much cheaper strategy: Permanently erasing thousands of specious, staff-written posts.
Last month, we noted that BuzzFeed had removed at least four posts, published in 2010 and 2011, that contained text lifted from other websites. A spokesperson explained that the deleted posts no longer met BuzzFeed’s updated “editorial standards.” Yet the site refused to specify (or even estimate) the total number deleted, for whatever reason, from BuzzFeed’s servers. A dozen? Fifty? A hundred?
According to BuzzFeed’s publicly available metrics, the site actually expunged over four thousand staff posts—a practice virtually unheard of in online publishing (not to mention its predecessor)—in the latter half of April.
Though the precise number of deleted posts is difficult to pin down, we were able to form a rough estimate based on archived copies of five long-time editors’ author profiles, which indicate the number of posts each has published on BuzzFeed.
For example: On April 15, Senior Editor Matt Stopera had 6,737 posts to his name. By April 24, he had 3,459—a difference of 3,278 posts. You can watch Stopera’s post count steadily decline over the course of the month:
You can also plug in any link listed in the Internet Archive’s comprehensive index of Stopera’s posts; many of them, especially those published in 2010 and 2011, are now programmed to redirect to BuzzFeed’s front page.
The same post-count metric—whose accuracy BuzzFeed did not attempt to dispute—yielded more evidence that other senior staffers’ posts had been deleted en masse.
- On April 22, Senior Editor Dave Stopera had 2,091 posts to his name. Two days later, he had 1,229—a difference of 862 posts.
- On April 15, DIY Editor Peggy Wang had 3,923 posts to her name. By April 24, she had 3,437—a difference of 486 posts.
- On April 23, Senior Reporter Mike Hayes had 667 posts to his name. The next day, he had 413—a difference of 254 posts.
- On April 16, Editorial Director Jack Shepherd had 2,501 posts to his name. By April 24, he had 2,394—a difference of 107 posts.
Taken together, that’s 4,987 posts. Even if we account for any posts published during the above periods, we’re still talking about at least 4,900 posts that BuzzFeed eradicated from its servers without any kind of explanation to its readers.
From Stopera’s “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Iceland” (published in 2010):
When overpopulation, famine and disease struck Iceland in the late 19th century, it prompted a mass exodus.
From Mental Floss’s “8 Things You Might Not Know About Iceland” (published in 2008):
When overpopulation, famine and disease struck Iceland in the late 19th century, it prompted a mass exodus from the frozen land.
As former Gawker scribe Adrian Chen observed two years ago, this kind of appropriation follows “an extreme aggregation logic that approaches words as just another form of content, to be remixed and copied without worrying about their source.” But as the recent firing of Viral Politics editor Benny Johnson shows, even BuzzFeed has come to recognize the practice as ethically troublesome.
It’s certainly possible that many—perhaps the majority—of the deleted posts committed lesser sins, like insufficient photo sourcing. BuzzFeed, however, wouldn’t tell us. Editor-in-chief Ben Smith did not acknowledge multiple, detailed inquiries about his site’s deleted content.
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Image by Jim Cooke