Here's a not-so-happy fact: "The 30 Happiest Facts of All Time," the biggest hit of the week on BuzzFeed, which has been caught before lifting its highly shareable feel-good listicles from Reddit, was mostly plagiarized from a month-old Reddit thread "Reddit, what is the happiest fact you know?" The BuzzFeed post by staff editor Dave Stopera adheres to the BuzzFeed formula: there are 38 short captions and images found on the web. Of those, 22 are lifted, nearly word-for-word, from Reddit users. For instance, "Otters hold hands when sleeping so they dont drift away from each other" on Reddit became Stopera's first entry, "Otters hold hands while sleeping so they don't float apart" on BuzzFeed. A reply in the Reddit thread — "I'm checking google for a picture now. EDIT: So cute http://i.imgur.com/1vJADfN.jpg" — even furnished the adorable art. We've listed the 21 other instances below.
As of this writing, Stopera's "facts" post has 840,000 views, 86,000 Facebook likes, and 2,620 tweets since it went up on Thursday afternoon. It's made Stopera, who according to his Facebook page has been on staff with BuzzFeed since 2011 and is a member of NYU's class of '13, the site's top traffic generator this week, with 4.8 million views, crushing his second-place older brother, BuzzFeed senior editor Matt Stopera, who has 2.7 million. Dave Stopera did not respond to an email requesting comment. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith declined immediate comment.
The previous times that BuzzFeed has been accused of spinning Reddit threads into shareable gold, its CEO and founder Jonah Peretti has been apologetic about the practice. "We were very concerned we were pissing off people in that community," he told Mashable in January when they were caught lifting photos from Reddit.
It was last June that Slate's Farhad Manjoo articulated the "secret to BuzzFeed's monster online success", pointing out several instances in which BuzzFeed recreated its signature listicles from posts on Reddit or other websites. Focusing on a post called "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity," he traced the idea for the post and its contents back to a variety of uncredited sources. When Adrian Chen at Gawker found several listicles by Matt Stopera in which material was lifted from multiple sources, Smith, a reporter who took BuzzFeed's top editorial spot at the end of 2011, said he was working to clean up the place. "They were moving toward more traditional standards of sourcing when I got here," Smith said, "but I certainly have made those traditional reportorial standards a lot clearer."
And while it seems silly to talk about "reportorial standards" when discussing a post like "The 30 Happiest Facts of All Times," BuzzFeed considers them literal works of art. "‘Thirty-three Animals Who Are Disappointed in You’ is a work of literature … I'm totally not joking,” Smith told The New York Times last month, boasting that that piece required 15 hours of research "and that in some ways is harder and more competitive than, say, political reporting." BuzzFeed has made a name for itself with that political reporting, and made occasionally underreported "scooplets" a calling card, but even Smith, in acknowledging that success, said "we were already the best at something: Creating emotionally driven, image-heavy content people want to share." Alas, Peretti defended the site's appropriation of already shared content to Slate's Manjoo and suggested that BuzzFeed, too, had been victims of online theft.
"We see people taking entire posts of ours and publishing them and sometimes linking back and sometimes not linking back,” Peretti says. “My general feeling is that you've got to keep your head down and do great work, and sites that do that are never going to be respected. Sites that just look for someone else's hits—sites that take much more than they add—are never going to be respected."
BuzzFeed is not alone in its strategy of repurposing Reddit discussions. And in perhaps a sign of how much it's perceived a part of the BuzzFeed playbook, others are beating it to the punch. Two other sites — Ink Tank, on the day of the Reddit discussion, and Collective Evolution, last week — — cobbled together similar "happiest facts" lists as though they had come up with them themselves.
We emailed Stopera earlier this afternoon seeking comment and while he has not replied, about an hour and a half after we emailed him, a brief link to the Reddit post appeared at the end of his post. We will update this post when and if we hear from him or any of the others at BuzzFeed we've contacted.
Update, 11:30 p.m.: BuzzFeed has updated the "30 Happiest Facts" piece to reflect the origin of the article's content.
Here, the facts (a term one should take with a grain of salt) as they appeared on Reddit and BuzzFeed.
Reddit (R): Otters hold hands when sleeping so they dont drift away from each other.
BuzzFeed (BF): Otters hold hands while sleeping so they don't float apart.
R: Blind people smile - bear in mind, they've never seen smiling and have no reference for it. Smiling is a natural human reaction for happiness.
BF: Blind people smile despite having never seen someone smile before. It is just a natural human reaction.
R: The chances of you (as opposed to someone else) being born is about 1 in 40 million. Life is a precious gift. Cherish it.
BF: Despite there being a 1 in 40 million chance of you having been born, your ancestors have successfully had children up until you.
R: Wayne Allwine (The voice of Mikey Mouse) and Russi Taylor (Voice of Minnie Mouse) were married in real life.
BF: And the voice of Mickey Mouse and the voice of Minnie Mouse got married in real life...
R: Spiders and scorpions don't fly!
BF: Spiders can't fly.
R: Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, promised his daughter he'd do something special for her that no other little girl would have: he'd write her initials on the Moon.
After he parked the Lunar Rover for the last time and headed back to the Lunar Module, he took his sample excavator and wrote "TDC" -- his daughters initials, next to the Rover. The initials are still there today, and will probably last about 50,000 years if nobody shows up and drives over them.
BF: The last man to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan, promised his daughter he'd write her initials on the moon. He did, and her initials, "TDC," will probably be on the moon for tens of thousands of years.
R: if you fake laugh long enough you will start to laugh really hard, its like enducing fake happiness
BF: If you fake laugh long enough, you'll actually start to laugh really hard.
R: A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance... Just thinking about that puts me in a better mood.
BF: A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance.
R: a group of ferrets is called a "business".
BF: And a group of ferrets is called a business of ferrets.
R: At the time of your birth, you were (most likely)the youngest person on the planet.
BF: When you were born, you were, for however brief an amount of time, the youngest person on the planet.
R: Puffins mate for life, make little homes in the cliffsides to have their young in. The best part is they make a side room for a toilet.
BF: Puffins mate for life.
R: BABY PUFFINS ARE CALLED PUFFLINGS
BF: And baby puffins are called "pufflings."
R: Cuddling and other "love actions" release Oxytocin which helps speed healing and recovery from physical wounds.
BF: A chemical called oxytocin is released when people cuddle, helping to heal physical wounds.
R: Cows have best friends. For some reason it makes me happy knowing that if a cow is having a bad day she can siddle up to her best buddy and feel better.
BF: Cows have best friends.
R: Rats giggle when you tickle them. Their voices are so high-pitched you need special equipment to hear them, but when you do, their laughs are immediately evident. Also, they love it.
BF: Rats laugh when tickled. (Linked YouTube video embedded underneath.)
R: On April 1st, 1957, a BBC news program ended with a three minute segment about a Spaghetti farm in Switzerland. In the segment, spaghetti (not being a popular dish in England at the time) was said to grow on trees. Many people believed the report and called the BBC to ask how to grow their own spaghetti tree. The response: "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
BF: In 1957, the BBC ran a story about how spaghetti was growing on trees in Switzerland. So many people believed the hoax that the BBC was flooded with calls from people asking how to plant their own spaghetti tree.
R: Something like 100's of trees a year grow as a result of squirrels forgetting where they buried their nuts.
BF: Squirrels forgetting where they put their acorns results in thousands of new trees each year.
R: A monkey was once tried and convicted for smoking a cigarette in South Bend, Indiana
BF: A monkey was once tried and convicted for smoking a cigarette in South Bend, Indiana.
R: Worms communicate by snuggling.
BF: Worms communicate with one another by snuggling.
R: The Beatles used the word "love" 613 times throughout their career.
BF: The Beatles used "love" 613 times in their songs.
R: Butterflies can taste with their feet!
BF: Butterflies use their feet to taste.
R: For someone, somewhere in the world, today is the most amazing day of their life.
BF: Somewhere, someone is having the best day of their life...
Not all of the facts are from Reddit. There's at least one other source for the facts Stopera used. BuzzFeed has mastered the art of reusing interesting pieces of information — GIFs or static images or themes — throughout multiple articles. One of Stopera's facts shows window washers at a children's hospital who dress like superheroes to entertain the kids. BuzzFeed used that image before — in "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.