David Mikkelson, co-founder of Snopes, a well-known “fact-checking” website, has taken responsibility for plagiarizing more than 50 articles after an internal review was conducted to determine whether the allegation had merit.
Managing Editor and Editorial Vice President of Snopes, Doreen Marchionni, suspended Mikkelson after reporters discovered that the co-founder plagiarized at least 54 articles, according to an exclusive report by BuzzFeed News. The outlet has since retracted a total of 60 articles.
Mikkelson reportedly published his articles under the pseudonym, “Jeff Zarronandia,” as well as the generic “Snopes staff” in the byline. Snopes, which was founded in 1994, describes itself as “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource.”
“Let us be clear: Plagiarism undermines our mission and values, full stop,” Marchionni said in a statement on Friday. “It has no place in any context within this organization. We invite readers to let us know here if they find any other examples of plagiarized content so that we can apply the same treatment as above.”
Between 2015 and 2019, Mikkelson allegedly copied stories from other news outlets regularly, claiming his intention was to get stories up as quickly as possible. The Snopes co-founder attributed his mistakes to his lack of journalistic experience.
“I didn’t come from a journalism background,” he told BuzzFeed. “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.”
Brooke Binkowski, former Managing Editor for Snopes, told BuzzFeed, “He would instruct writers to copy text from other sites, post them verbatim so that it looked like we were fast and could scoop up traffic, and then change the story in real time,” she stated. “I hated it and wouldn’t tell any of the staff to do it, but he did it all the time.”
Mikkelson’s Snopes articles reportedly contained phrases, and even entire paragraphs, from outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times and the BBC, often using the “Snopes staff” byline or his pseudonym.
The Snopes co-founder told the news outlet in an interview that he created the Zarronandia pseudonym as a “joke” intended to mislead critics who he alleges were “making stuff up” about Snopes during the contentious 2016 election.
“It was kind of a stress-relief thing after spending 20 years seeing people trying to discredit our work by just making stuff up about us. Let’s have some fun and watch these people vent their spleen inventing reasons why this nonexistent persona is biased,” Mikkelson said.
Snopes said that it has found 140 articles with potential problems, including the 54 articles that were already confirmed.