The inner workings behind BuzzFeed’s rapidly produced content that secures their viral status is far from a well-oiled machine.
The love for BuzzFeed is not small. From young kids to adults, the interest in the comic-based website is deeply embedded. Though there are some humorous aspects to BuzzFeed and more playful forms of media, they also have a serious side of news reporting.
The team behind their viral quizzes, funny videos and news articles is treated with little to no respect. Between the stolen images, rapid content, recycled memes, desperate assimilation of all things pop culture and lack of consideration for the creatives they employ, BuzzFeed is far from internet gold.
In the past few years there has been a steady flow of “Why I Left BuzzFeed” YouTube videos by former employees explaining why they quit the large-scale media company. The recurring themes: The creators say they wanted more creative control and ownership of their work meaning they wanted the freedom to explore other creative outlets or own the ideas they have pitched/executed which is prohibited; they didn’t agree with BuzzFeed’s policies prohibiting outside projects; and some simply feel too drained from the pressure of churning out a high volume of content.
Aside from these ex-employee videos that range in the dozens, there has been a long-standing legal fight from the current employees against the company. BuzzFeed employees announced their union’s formation in February after 15% of its workforce was laid off in January. According to CNN, the seemingly small percentage amounted to over 1,000 media employees being out of a job with little to no warning. Over 90% of eligible editorial employees joined the unionization effort at the time, and a request to recognize the union was sent to the group said in a statement.
In a request for recognition sent to BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, the unionizing newsroom staffers wrote they are organizing to address “unfair pay disparities, mismanaged pivots and layoffs, weak benefits, skyrocketing health insurance costs, diversity and more.” The letter also detailed employees’ efforts to organize over the years, though they ramped up unionizing efforts after the company laid off video staffers and its podcast team last fall.
Unfortunately, their lack of recognizing their employees union efforts is just one of the many issues they face. When it comes to the comedy sector of their blossoming media empire, the content they produce is not entirely theirs to post.
The website is no longer a source for random content, but it’s actually changing the fabric of the internet. Their articles, memes and quizzes have caused a shift in expectation for the average internet reader, away from validated, purpose-driven content that informs, to unoriginal superfluous filler that distracts.
Many BuzzFeed articles are published with stolen images used under the guise of “fair use.” According to the United States Copyright Act, “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research” is a valid application of the doctrine. Simply put, this act allows for them to publish your content such as memes or social media posts without the owner’s consent.
In addition to this, they often miscredit their sources. Instead of researching and validating their sources they often leave out the original creator. The “sources” BuzzFeed links are often Tumblr sites that point to other Tumblr sites, that point to Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Reddit and countless broken links and sites that aren’t the actual source of the images they’ve misappropriated.
From short films, pictures, video ideas and recipes, nothing is safe from the lurking eyes of the media giant.
According to Crunchbase, a website that provides insights on company financials, BuzzFeed earned over $400 million since their founding.
With all the money they bring in, they can afford to fact-check their articles. They can afford to pay people to take their time and check sources. They can afford to give their employees a reasonable wage and correlating benefits. They can afford to pay content creators for the images, photographs and writing they’ve stolen to become millionaires.