The co-founder of the fact-checking site Snopes plagiarized news stories under a fake name, a BuzzFeed News investigation found. David Mikkelson, who co-founded the site with his wife in 1999, pulled sentences —and even paragraphs—from news stories on other websites and published them on Snopes under an alias between 2015 and 2019, an act he said helped drive traffic. In total, 54 articles were published under his name, his alias Jeff Zarronandia, and the Snopes byline with plagiarized material. In internal Slack messages, Mikkelson said he did this in an effort to turn Snopes into a “platform for traffic-generating junk that people would complain about if it were on ‘classic’ snopes”—even as other staffers disagreed with his approach. A former Snopes writer told BuzzFeed that she didn’t comply with Mikkelson’s order, as it did not follow ethical journalistic guidelines.
Snopes said they would retract all articles published by Mikkelson and suspend him from all editorial responsibilities. Mikkelson told the outlet he regretted his behavior and described the alias as a “stress-relief thing” after conservative figures attacked the site during the 2016 election.