Buzzfeed has few pals in the YouTube community.
Founded almost a decade ago, the social news and entertainment company Buzzfeed has scored millions in venture capital and equity investments. And along the way, it stole millions of eyeballs away from conventional media companies to both its site and channels on platforms such as YouTube. As it grew, Buzzfeed scored a copious amount of news scoops, including exclusives with President Barack Obama that many news channels can only dream about. Meanwhile the site became link-bait gold. While Buzzfeed hardly invented the “top 17,” “21 ingenious ideas” and “7 things I learned” lists, the site’s writers certainly perfected the art of turning them into online bankability.
But while it stole eyeballs, Buzzfeed also built a reputation as a group of writers and content creators that does not think twice about stealing ideas. Reddit became so tired of Buzzfeed’s alleged pilfering of its content that it launched another site with curated content (though, some would reply that Reddit is built on user-generated content as well). One writer on Gawker went so far as to define Buzzfeed by its “plagiarism problem,” and the criticism continued to snowball. Buzzfeed eventually fired one of its news writers, and even apologized to its readers for the snafu.
Of course, its reputation as a nest for plagiarized content didn’t keep Buzzfeed from reporting on . . . others who were accused of plagiarism. And Buzzfeed also drew a line in the sand as it accused other sites of ripping off its content.
Meanwhile, the lists of “hilarious tweets” are still coming out, and videos such as the “Louisiana Literacy Test” keep streaming. But writers and videographers continue to protest what they say are Buzzfeed’s dubious “idea theft” tactics, and they are hitting back hard.
In a recent op-ed, Hughes called for advertisers to stop sponsoring Buzzfeed’s YouTube channel. Dismissing the site’s writers as a bunch of “BuzzThieves,” Hughes lists several examples of articles and YouTube videos that were repackaged as Buzzfeed videos. Two of the examples, Hughes said, were ideas stolen from her, and she is not having it:
“This isn’t parody. This isn’t homage. This isn’t a coincidence. This is a deliberate initiative on BuzzFeed’s behalf to undermine the hard work of independent comedians, creators and innovators in the online space,” Akilah Hughes wrote on Medium.
Even more egregious, Hughes implied, is that Buzzfeed generates profits on the backs of content creators who do not see a dime for their efforts. And many of those include people who are from racial and ethnic minorities, along with those who are part of the LGBT community. One example Hughes brings up is the YouTuber Kat Blaque, who slammed Buzzfeed for asking her and other transgender content creators to work for free in exchange for what many in the online content space like to describe as “exposure.”
The solution, Hughes wrote, is relatively simple. And for companies that want to show they are socially responsible, she has a point. Instead of funneling money to Buzzfeed, why don’t companies hire some of these content creators, comedians and vloggers for a fraction of their online advertising budgets? Such arrangements would engender loyalty, inspire more creativity and send a signal that the days of relying on lifting the content from uncompensated talent are over.
Image credit: Buzzfeed/Instagram