The digital smear campaign against journalism’s rigorous reporting on Russia is reaching a low point.
In a series of tweets over the weekend, BuzzFeed reporter Zach Epstein revealed that a blog post — ostensibly on BuzzFeed — appeared to suggest that he had agreed to unethical tactics in one of his reporting projects. The blog post was falsely credited to a “Copyright In Aid of Technical Work” research group created by Facebook. BuzzFeed’s report on the matter has spurred scrutiny of the ties between what it has described as a political PR company and right-wing think tanks on behalf of a specific anti-media agenda, and the murky issue of what BuzzFeed has termed “taking down dissent.”
Fake BuzzFeed blog post that appeared to question me financially was funded by a @facebook company called @CopyrightInAidofTechnicalWork.
Apparently, the paper has ever been written. — Zach Epstein (@zachepstein) May 6, 2018
BuzzFeed later deleted the post. It has not responded to questions about its relationship with the copyright-in-aid-of-technical-work group. Facebook has provided no official comment. A lawyer, who worked on the research project, told a Florida reporter, “This isn’t funded by Facebook,” but he declined to comment further.
Last year, the federal government pressured Facebook to rewrite its political advertising policies, after their rollback made it easier for foreign actors to buy U.S. election ads. Amid the company’s tight-lipped approach toward that issue, reports surfaced that several Trump-connected entities had secretly coordinated ad buys. Then, in March, Buzzfeed revealed that conservative nonprofit group “The Great America Alliance” had set up a special pro-Trump PAC run through Facebook — with Facebook underwriting at least some of the financing. Now, as this latest episode makes clear, money isn’t the only thing that this group is allegedly taking from its sources.
It’s hard to tell how effective this intellectual patsy will be, but Facebook is likely to continue dealing with the prospect of those who try to manipulate the platform’s reputation by using false information to sate their political agitators.