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BuzzFeed CEO Has History of Writing Fake News About Political, Business Rivals

CC0 / / Fake news
Fake news - Sputnik International
In the years before founding BuzzFeed, CEO Jonah Peretti masqueraded as political opponents or business rivals, creating fake websites and spreading false statements and emails pretending to be them in order to defame them, one of his victims told Sputnik Wednesday.

Peretti, whose news outlet has recently gotten into hot water after publishing and sticking with a story refuted by the Office of the Special Counsel, also has a history of knowingly spreading false information about others.

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John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a specialist on civilian use of firearms, told Sputnik Wednesday that Peretti impersonated him in 2003 in the interests of whipping up support for a hotly debated gun control law.

At the time, Peretti was the director of the R&D lab at Eyebeam, a New York-based not-for-profit art and technology center.

Peretti adopted the identity of Lott, who authored the book "More Guns, Less Crime," purporting to have had a change of heart and sending out emails urging recipients that he'd had a change of heart and to oppose the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," which lawmakers intended to use to protect gun makers from lawsuits. A website Peretti created, AskJohnLott.org, carried the same message, Lott explained in a Tuesday op-ed on Fox News.

"[Peretti] set up a website using my picture and appearing to be from me, and as I described in the op-ed, he sent out emails that appeared to be from me and he emailed back and forth with people trying to convince them he was me," Lott told Sputnik.

Peretti began receiving hundreds of angry phone calls after the faux email sender began advising recipients how to get around gun control laws. He wrote that he contacted the fake email address after being alerted to it and its messages by James K. Glassman, a former Washington Post columnist, who later served as US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy.

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"I talked to [Peretti] on the phone a couple times when we finally figured out who had done it,"Lott said. "I mean, he had registered the domain name in my name and used my address in setting it up, so it took some effort. But when we finally discovered who it was — because I had emailed back to the askJohnLott.org email address and he wouldn't respond to that — but when we finally figured out who it was, I had a few discussions with him."

Lott said that only when he lawyered up did Peretti make any effort to indicate that the page wasn't real, and then made a half-hearted attempt to call his identity fraud parody. "He only put down that it was a parody account after it was discovered, after I brought the lawsuit. But before I brought the lawsuit, he just wasn't willing to do anything."

However, Lott pressed forward with the suit, telling Sputnik, "you can't take somebody's identity and try to use it for your own advantage." He included MBA student Jeff Goldblatt in the suit, another of Peretti's victims who had suffered a similar kind of harassment and identity theft.

Lott wrote on Fox that Peretti set up a fake website and email to impersonate Goldblatt, too, after the latter set up a dating service called "Rejection Hotline" at around the time Peretti set up a similar service of his own. Lott said Peretti's sister and co-founder of their service, called "Rejection Line," went so far as to interview Goldblatt while posing as a real New York-based reporter and then using that information to create fake content that "contained multiple lies about me and portrayed me as an arrogant jerk who was bragging about how I stole the idea of the New York City Rejection Line," he told Lott.

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"I guess [Peretti] just thought he was competing against somebody and rather than doing the normal competition, he thought that somehow it was justifiable," Lott told Sputnik. "I never really asked him why he would do these things, I just kind of assumed he knew that it was wrong and, you know, I tried to argue with him about it, but until I brought the suit I wasn't able to get anywhere with him, and even then he tried to fight a little bit."

"He basically pleaded poverty when I was suing him," Lott said, noting that today Peretti is worth $200 million. "He had wealthy financial backers at the time and he kind of used the threat, or tried to use the threat, of having the wealthy financial backers go and cover his legal costs. It didn't deter me from continuing the suit and forcing him to settle. I mean… it would have been costly to go to court, obviously, but I was glad we were able to settle," which they did in 2005 for an undisclosed amount, including a formal apology to both Lott and Goldblatt.

That same year, Peretti co-founded the Huffington Post and the following year he co-founded BuzzFeed.

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