Fact-Checking Site Snopes Honcho Plagiarized at Least 54 Articles

Fact-Checking Site Snopes Honcho Plagiarized at Least 54 Articles plagiarism on paper in typewriter (Dreamstime)

By Fran Beyer | Friday, 13 August 2021 01:44 PM

A co-founder of the fact-checking website Snopes wrote and published dozens of articles containing material plagiarized from news outlets, BuzzFeed News reported Friday.

After an internal review, Snopes confirmed that under a pseudonym, the Snopes byline, and his own name, David Mikkelson wrote and published 54 articles with plagiarized material, the news outlet reported.

Snopes top editor Doreen Marchionni suspended Mikkelson pending “a comprehensive internal investigation.” He remains an officer and a 50% shareholder of the company, BuzzFeed News reported.

According to BuzzFeed News, Snopes intends to retract all of the offending stories and disable advertising on them — and append an editor's note of explanation to each.

“There is no excuse for my serious lapses in judgement. I’m sorry,” Mikkelson told BuzzFeed News.

Under one pseudonym — Jeff Zarronandia — Mikkelson wrote at least 23 articles on topics including Donald Trump’s financial woes and false rumors about Hillary Clinton, BuzzFeed News reported.

"It's just a David Mikkelson alt," Snopes' former managing editor Brooke Binkowski told BuzzFeed News. "He used to write about topics he knew would get him hate mail under that assumed name. Plus it made it appear he had more staff than he had."

Between 2015 and 2019, Mikkelson regularly plagiarized reporting from other news outlets in an effort to beef up website traffic, BuzzFeed News reported.

"I didn't come from a journalism background," he told the news outlet. "I wasn't used to doing news aggregation. A number of times I crossed the line to where it was copyright infringement. I own that."

BuzzFeed News reported it found dozens of articles on Snopes' site that include language — sometimes entire paragraphs — that appear to have been copied without attribution from news outlets that include the New York Times, CNN, NBC News, and the BBC. Six of the articles were originally published under Zarronandia’s byline, three under Mikkelson’s own, and the rest under "Snopes staff."

Snopes’s subsequent internal review identified 140 articles with possible problems and 54 that were found to include appropriated material, BuzzFeed News reported.