No Haters! BuzzFeed CEO Had to Apologize for Impersonating Conservative Activist
The infotainment website BuzzFeed infamously holds a "no haters" hiring policy, but several conservative figures have experienced nasty personal attacks from its employees—and in gun rights advocate John R. Lott, Jr.'s case, from the man at the very top of the company.
According to Lott, in 2003, a website that pretended to be him and presented opinions which were not his own was set up by a tech nonprofit called Eyebeam and one of its then-employees, Jonah Peretti. Peretti co-founded the Huffington Post in 2005 and is now the founder and CEO of BuzzFeed.
The site was titled "AskJohnLott.org" and sent out emails fraudulently claiming the gun scholar thought lawsuits against gun companies played an important role in society. At the time the site was established, President George W. Bush was eager to sign a immunity bill banning reckless or "junk" lawsuits against gun companies.
Lott provided Breitbart News with one of the emails the site sent in response to questions on the immunity bill then under consideration. The email was signed "John Lott" although Lott had neither written nor seen the email:
While I know there have been many unfair lawsuits against gun manufacturers, I'm starting to believe that safer, tight restrictions will come from the privatized world, rather than the government agencies. If the gun manufacturers can still maintain a sense of fear of lawsuit, they can do more to prevent the guns from getting into the wrong hands.
As reported by CNS News, the website's users received an email from its creator pushing back against assertions that he was not really John Lott.
"Why are you pretending not to believe this site? I believe, if you look at my track record, you'll see that everything i've [sic] done in my entire career has been upfront and straightforward," the Lott imposter wrote. "Why have you decided now to question me?"
The creator of the fraudulent site authored the e-mail but claimed it was sent by "John Lott."
The site later added a disclaimer claiming it was a "parody" of Mr. Lott.
Lott filed suit after discovering evidence linking the site's registration to Peretti. A settlement was reached over the fraudulent site and emails. As part of that settlement, the site was shut down, and Peretti released the following apology letter:
The "AskJohnLott.org" website was created by The Eyebeam Atelier Inc. This site was never associated, endorsed or otherwise affiliated with John R. Lott, Jr. E-mail sent from the "AskJohnLott.org" domain that was identified as coming from Lott was also never associated, endorsed or otherwise affiliated with John R. Lott, Jr. Eyebeam deeply regrets any confusion and offers a formal apology to John R. Lott, Jr.
On many BuzzFeed job listings, the company says, "no haters." Peretti explained his reasoning to Wired: "There was an era when snarking was what blogs did. On the social web it's about building a larger society. There's been progress in marriage equality because you're connected to someone, and they're gay, and they're a good person… That's true for content."
The "no haters" policy extends to the company editorially, as explained by ex-employee Mark Duffy in a Gawker piece detailing his firing by editor-in-chief Ben Smith. Duffy, known by the name "Copyranter," became frustrated by the "no haters" credo stifling his personal style:
Many editorial job openings on BuzzFeed's jobs page feature a "no haters" (say it a singsong voice) caveat. But hating is what I do, and have always done. Hating was what built my following. I was specifically hired, by Ben Smith, to hate ads. After a few months of being forced to delete posts because they knocked big name advertisers' "mediocre" (Ben Smith's word) ads, what I started doing instead was make fraudulent posts about decent ads with "best ____ ad ever" titles.
It's easy to see, then, when conservative find themselves stung by "venomous" hit pieces from BuzzFeed's writers which clearly violate the "no haters" policy, they need only look to the head of the company for the kind of attitude that creates this partisan, trolling culture.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins.