BuzzFeed Battles Ethics in Plagiarism Scandal

BuzzFeed Apology
BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith issued an apology after accusations of plagiarism emerged against a writer.

BuzzFeed’s Viral Politics Editor, Benny Johnson, was fired after BuzzFeed executives discovered over 40 counts of plagiarism on the site, according to a blog on Politico.com.

In the late evening on Friday, July 25, BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith issued an online apology to BuzzFeed readers.

“After carefully reviewing more than 500 of Benny’s posts, we have found 41 instances of sentences or phrases copied word for word from other sites. Benny is a friend, colleague, and, at his best, a creative force, but we had no choice other than letting him go,” the editor’s note said.

Twitter users and a blog named “Our Bad Media” called Johnson out and cited examples of plagiarism in his work, according to an article by The Washington Post.

On Saturday morning, Johnson apologized via Twitter, according to Politico.com.

“To the writers who were not properly attributed and anyone who ever read my byline, I am sincerely sorry,” Johnson tweeted.

Despite the negative circumstances, BuzzFeed decided to come clean to readers and attempted to fix the mistakes.

“We have corrected the instances of plagiarism, and added an editor’s note to each. We have also included links to each at the bottom of this note. We will work hard to be more vigilant in the future, and to earn your trust,” Smith said in the online apology.

BuzzFeed was honest in its communications efforts, acted in the best interest of its readers and website, and reported the ethical violations of plagiarism to the public. Although BuzzFeed’s actions align with the ethical guidelines for public relations practitioners found on PRSA’s website, the site will still have to work to regain the lost credibility.

Do you think BuzzFeed handled the issue appropriately?

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Adam Piccin is a junior at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio studying public relations, health communication and marketing. He currently serves as president of the Otterbein PRSSA Chapter.  More information on Adam’s professional experience can we found on his website.  Follow him on Twitter @adampiccin or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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