How does this one site come up with so many simple ideas that people want to spread far and wide? What’s their secret?
The answer, in short, is that BuzzFeed’s staff finds stuff elsewhere on the Web, most often at Reddit. They polish and repackage what they find. And often—and, from what I can tell, deliberately—their posts are hard to trace back to the original source material.
… Once you understand how central Reddit is to BuzzFeed, it’s like spotting the wizard behind the curtain. Whenever you see a popular BuzzFeed post, search Reddit, and all will be revealed.
It’s not the first time BuzzFeed has taken heat for republishing other people’s photos in lists like “33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed in You.” Manjoo said BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti “concedes that some of its ideas have appeared elsewhere online, but he argued that there’s nothing wrong with that because few things on the Web are really original.”
Grist writer Philip Bump, writing on his personal blog, evaluates Manjoo’s case against BuzzFeed:
Where Manjoo’s post hits hardest, I think, is when it suggests that BuzzFeed steals ideas. …
By far the weakest charge is that BuzzFeed grabs content from Reddit. Literally everyone does. Literally everyone. The Pope shares popular things he sees on Reddit. At any given moment, the most popular thing on Gawker is a post from Reddit or a similar viral site.
Photos and videos and stories have become atoms whipping around the web, rubbing away most vestiges of provenance. Stealing the formulas for molecules constructed from those atoms — as Manjoo suggests BuzzFeed does — is a much clearer violation of Internet ethics.
Related: A day in the life of a viral Web editor at BuzzFeed (NPR) || Earlier: If putting photos together in a top 10 list is fair use, what isn’t? | NY Times and BuzzFeed to collaborate on convention coverage | Why BuzzFeed as a real news site is no laughing matter | BuzzFeed posts are shared because they make readers feel something