How Ben Smith Turned BuzzFeed Into a Hate Site


Just before Christmas Eve weekend in December of 2013, a young New York-based communications director fired off a tweet before stepping on a plane to Africa. The tweet was a joke about hoping she didn’t contact AIDS while visiting the continent. It could have been offensive. It could have been a poorly worded comment about her own white privilege. Fueled by a toxic mix of sanctimony and self-righteousness, no one cared to wait and find out.

By the time this young woman’s plane landed some hours later, the mindless Internet mob had devastated her life. She was fired, infamous throughout the world, and would drive the news cycle for the next few days.

There were two unforgivable sins at work here. The first was sadistically pulling the wings off this young woman’s life without giving an unclear joke the benefit of the doubt, or at least giving her a chance to explain. The worst sin of all, though, was targeting a nobody — an everyday, powerless private person who is neither in a position of real power or a public figure. She was a plaything for the worst people in the world, and BuzzFeed gleefully directed and poured rocket fuel on the mob.

This wasn’t bullying, it was savagery.

More than a year later, this poor woman, who did nothing wrong, is just now starting to put her life back together.

More than a year later, BuzzFeed, a site that poses as a serious and objective news organization, chose not to learn anything from its unconscionable behavior and the consequence of it. In fact, all BuzzFeed appears to have learned is how to better point online mobs in the direction of powerless people who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

In a blaring headline Wednesday, BuzzFeed lied about Memories Pizza, a small pizzeria in Indiana that, through no fault of their own, found their life’s work destroyed in fewer than 36 hours.

When targeted by local hooligans disguised as local reporters, one of the owners said the following, and did so clearly:

The O’Connor family told ABC 57 news that if a gay couple or a couple belonging to another religion came in to the restaurant to eat, they would never deny them service.

The O’Connors say they just don’t agree with gay marriages and wouldn’t cater them if asked to.

Naturally, the local hooligans chose to put the fact that the O’Connors would never deny anyone service at the bottom of their propaganda piece.

Here’s the first lie BuzzFeed fed to its mob:

Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind. is making news today for its announcement that it will not cater gay weddings[.]

That’s not just a lie, that’s a goddamned lie. Memories Pizza made no announcement. They were ambushed by hooligans and expressed an opinion.

That lie, however, was not the worst BuzzFeed would tell.

Although BuzzFeed has since memory-holed the headline, its biggest piece on the story blared the following lie to the online world: “Indiana Pizzeria Owner Say They’d Deny LGBT People Service.” This, despite the fact the owner said the exact opposite.

BuzzFeed certainly wasn’t alone in their gleeful cheering on of the destruction of a powerless small business that was minding their own business. But they are one of the biggest, baddest, proudest, and most shameless.

BuzzFeed also has history. There’s no remorse. No sense of decency. No deep breath. Just more of the same.

Thursday night, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith tried to BenSmith away his own culpability in this tragedy:

Nothing to see here, folks. Just a fascinating online social phenomenon. Yeah, we poured hate-fuel all over these powerless, innocent people, repeatedly lied about them, and then changed our libelous headline without making an editor’s note. But watch me tap my chin over all of this to try and convince you and myself that I’m not a villain.

A Christian who politely declines to participate, or worse, profit from the sacramentalization of sin that is a same sex marriage ceremony, is a good Christian and person – a person no different than a Muslim who does not want to handle pork for your catered picnic or a gay printer who does not want to publish Westboro Baptist Church literature.

BuzzFeed’s online and ongoing role as an intolerant, hate-spewing  bully is a feature, not a bug.


John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC             


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.