9:47 a.m. August 24, 2013

BuzzFeed: The "Exploding" PR Platform For Anti-Abortion Trolls

Like most stories about Buzzfeed, this one began with a tweet. It came from @GerardDiTrolio, who tweeted at me: "@BuzzFeed keeps hitting new lows" and linked to a Buzzfeed "community contributor" post by Personhood USA titled, "8 Outrageous Things Planned Parenthood Was Caught Doing"…

All eight of these "outrageous things" that Planned Parenthood has supposedly done — including scary stuff like "Taking Money To Abort African-American Babies" and "Covering Up Child Sex Trafficking" — come courtesy of a bunch of embedded YouTube videos produced by Leadership Institute anti-abortion bagraker and old James O'Keefe sidekick Lila Rose, who's been hot on Planned Parent's death-trail for a number of years.

According to Media Matters, Ms. Rose's inspiration is a man called Mark Crutcher who pioneered the use of fake documentaries and PR campaigns to agitate against abortion. Among other things, Crutcher believes that abortion/reproductive rights are a Nazi (maybe Marxist) eugenics program. He also hates President Obama, saying that he is the most "morally defective and completely unqualified person to ever be given the keys to the Oval Office."

So who or what is "Personhood USA," the organization posting Ms. Rose's garbage on Buzzfeed?

Personhood USA's Buzzfeed profile page describes the outfit as "dedicated to recognizing the rights of every human being, no matter their size, race, sex, level of development, or location"… In reality, Personhood USA is a nutcase anti-abortion group that's been running a national "human" rights campaign to get a fertilized egg recognized as a breathing, living human being, launching attacks on Colorado, Mississippi, Arkansas, California, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon…

Here's the group's central plank:

The beginning of the biological development of a human being who is created through sexual reproduction is the instant when the sperm and the ovum touch to form a unique human being. … In the case of a cloned human being, his or her biological beginning is when the DNA in the cell/cells is deprogrammed or reprogrammed to the same state of differentiation as a human organism.

So, forget about fetus rights: Personhood USA is for all about fertilized egg rights. Towards that goal, they've been pushing for state-level abortion bans, as well as bans on most forms of contraception (excluding condoms)… So, no birth control pills, ladies! Cuz that would be… uh… murder?

In 2010, PR Watch reported on a scary Personhood USA video that blamed abortion for the "decline of America" and warned that Roe v. Wade created a clan of "men in black robes... plotting in Washington, D.C." These scary robed men "hated traditional American values, especially life and liberty" and were led by none other than President Barack Obama—the "Angel of Death," as Personhood USA called him. The folks behind Personhood USA have also been pissing off the African-American community by equating their pro-egg rights campaign with the anti-slavery movement…

So those are the freaks behind Buzzfeed's anti-Planned Parenthood listicle. But they aren't the only lunatic outfit using Buzzfeed's community platform to spread right-wing propaganda amongst millennials.

Earlier this summer, the Heritage Foundation used BuzzFeed Community to publish a listicle debunking Obamacare myths with the help of animated gifs. Visual props included a gif of Harry Potter rolling his eyes, Ben Stiller partying with his metrosexual/gay buddies in Zoolander and some dude from Glee going "Oh Snap"…

That's very cute and all, but the Heritage Foundation is pure oligarch evil. Started up with seed money from Coors and Mellon family heirs, Heritage now runs on a $100-million budget and enjoys generous backing from the billionaire Koch brothers. Among other positive contributions to society, Heritage has boosted for Nicaraguan death squads, taken money from South Korean intel agencies, fought hard to limit your ability to sue mega-corporations, helped gut laws that protect the environment and regulate Wall Street fraud, and pushed all sorts of other toxic free-market voodoo. Most recently, a Heritage Foundation immigration expert was outed as a proponent of eugenics and Social Darwinism. Oh, snap!

But none of that seems to have bothered Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, or his boss, Buzzfeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti. And that's good, considering that Buzzfeed has been increasingly partnering with the Kochs lately, going so far as to host a special Koch-sponsored Buzzfeed immigration summit this past May, and plastering Buzzfeed's entire "Politics" subsection with a "Charles Koch Institute" banner for the occasion. (You can read what I wrote about the Buzzfeed-Koch partnership, as well as Ben Smith's long, shady history of running cover for the Koch brothers here …)

With all these rightwing partnership's Buzzfeed's been getting into lately, I wondered how much the site charged institutions like the Heritage Foundation and Personhood USA to post branded content on its "community contributor" section. Surely, a media monetization pioneer like Buzzfeed wasn't letting such a ripe revenue stream go unexploited…

To find out, I sent an email to Buzzfeed's PR department:

Dear Buzzfeed—

I'm a reporter from NSFWCORP doing a story on Buzzfeed's Community Contributor section.

As I understand it, any individual can create a community contributor account and post content free of charge. Is the same true for institutional community contributors such as PersonhoodUSA and the HeritageFoundation—both of which have branded pages on Buzzfeed, complete with logos and links to their websites?

In other words: can organizations, corporations and institutions post branded content on Buzzfeed for free? If not, how much does Buzzfeed charge for the privilege?

Thank you for your help.

Best, YL

Here's the answer, courtesy of Buzzfeed's press director Ashley McCollum:

Hi Yasha-
We've had an explosion of interest in our community in recent weeks, and a flood of new content, a lot of it great, both from individual contributors – which had been the focus of the community — and from groups. We've been adjusting the labeling, and we're in the process of figuring out where and whether we should draw lines about what's appropriate on what we conceived as an open platform, like Facebook and Twitter. It's an interesting, and complicated, question but we're inclined to leave the platform as open as possible.

To be clear, these aren't sponsored posts.

The only way these posts get seen are from stories like the one you are writing. There isn't a single link on BuzzFeed to this story but once you publish there will be one from NSFW Corp.

Thanks, Ashley

So there you go. Personhood USA and Heritage Foundation don't have to pay Buzzfeed a penny to spew their anti-women's rights garbage and toxic freemarket propaganda. It's only when they want BuzzFeed's editor in chief to show up in person and lob softball questions that evil has to write a fat check. Glad we got that one cleared up.

Back channel chatter

  1. Speaking of far-right Buzzfeed advertorial: Ben Smith published under his own name an advertorial promoting a new book published by a far-right conspiracy theory outfit, "World Net Daily," calling for the impeachment of Obama. World Net Daily is the main "Birther" site promoting the "Obama was born in Kenya" conspiracy. Ben Smith wrote a glowing advance review of the new WND-published book for BuzzFeed this week, citing WND's own PR on its sales figures:

    The book, set to be published by WND Books on Aug. 27, has pre-sold nearly 100,000 copies already and just went to its third printing, Klein said, “due to unexpected demand from bookstores.”

    Oh, and here's BuzzFeed Ben in 2011, when he was still with Politico, promoting Bruce Fein's 2011 impeachment case against Obama (yes, the same Bruce Fein I just wrote about):

    A prominent libertarian constitutional lawyer and civil libertarian has drafted an article of impeachment against President Obama over his attack on Libya, throwing down a legal gauntlet that could be picked up by some Congressional Republicans.

    Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration official in the Department of Justice and chairman of American Freedom Agenda writes in his 15-page argument of Obama's course that "Barack Hussein Obama has mocked the rule of law, endangered the very existence of the Republic and the liberties of the people, and perpetrated an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor."

    Fein is a small-government conservative who worked on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and also called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and his work doesn't represent the Republican Party line. But it comes as some Republicans on the Hill, led by Senator Rand Paul, object vociferously to Obama's decision to strike targets in Libya without Congressional authorization.