A Fact-Checker Hatched An Elaborate Scheme To Catch A Site That Was Stealing His Stories by Buzzfeed


Until yesterday, Shawn Rice was one of the internet’s most prolific debunkers of online hoaxes.

Since at least November 2016, Rice has written thousands of articles approximately hoaxes for business2community.com, a commerce, trade and marketing blog. His quick, formulaic debunks appeared high on the first page of Google search results and in Google News. He was the site’s most frequent contributor and recently scored its biggest hit on Facebook of the past two years with a debunk of a fake record approximately Netflix picking up the recently canceled TV series Roseanne, according to data from social tracking tool BuzzSumo. Rice’s record generated over 80,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

But final night close to 6,000 of Rice’s more than 7,200 articles were suddenly deleted — including whole of his debunks.

The purge came hours after BuzzFeed News contacted Rice and the site’s leadership — which includes his brother — with evidence of Rice’s serial plagiarism and to reveal that his rampant theft of record ideas had been exposed in an elaborate sting conceived by a publisher tired of having its stories copied by Rice.

Rice and business2community.com’s onslaught of search engine optimized debunks is a byproduct of Google and Facebook’s ongoing elevation of fact-checks in search results, Google News, and people’s feeds. This creates an incentive for a site like business2community.com to churn out fact-checks as section of its SEO strategy — even whether the stories indulge in small to achieve with the site’s brand and content focus. (Rice’s remaining articles appear to consist largely of quick posts approximately performances on America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and American Idol that each embed a YouTube video and related tweets.)

Rice and business2community.com did not respond to multiple emails and Facebook messages. But hours after being contacted, someone began deleting thousands of Rice’s articles from the site. Far absent in Belgium, Maarten Schenk was gleefully screenshotting Rice’s author page as his article count continued to drop.

Schenk is a cofounder of Lead Stories, a website committed to debunking hoaxes. He writes whole of the site’s debunks and is also the lead developer of Trendolizer, a tool used by him and other publishers to track trending content. Trendolizer quickly identifies a hoax as it begins to trend, which enables Schenk to publish a debunk faster than other sites and reap the SEO benefits.

Schenk told BuzzFeed News he was fed up with seeing Rice publish the same debunk immediately after him, thereby pushing Lead Stories further down in search results.

Schenk said, “It is incredibly frustrating to us when Google demotes our link to third or fourth space when a site with a higher page rank comes in and debunks the hoax too, particularly when that site learned of the hoax through our site and then uses the exact same evidence we dug up to prove the record fraudulent and then doesn’t even credit us for finding it.”

“Business2Community author Shawn Rice is the worst example of this,” he added.

Schenk if BuzzFeed News with a copy of an email exchange he had with Renee DeCoskey, business2community.com’s managing editor, in January, where he complained approximately Rice plagiarizing content and stealing record ideas. At the time, the site agreed to prefer more than 150 offending articles offline so Rice could add proper attribution to Lead Stories.

“They promised us he would stop copying things and would give proper attribution in whole cases in the future,” Schenk said. “But now he just uses us to find hoaxes to write approximately and does so without mentioning where he found out approximately them at whole.”

So Schenk hatched a blueprint to catch Rice in the act. First, he identified the IP addresses he believed Rice’s computer was using when accessing the Lead Stories site. Rice’s LinkedIn profile lists his day job as an editor for LexisNexis, the legal information publisher. Schenk found that IP addresses linked to LexisNexis would access his site before Rice published a unusual record.

Schenk created an alternate homepage that would be shown only to visitors coming to the site from those IPs, and that would exhibit a choice of content quite than whole of his latest work.

Schenk soon saw that Rice would debunk only the stories on that homepage. At one point he effect an used record on the special homepage and watched as Rice soon published a post approximately the same hoax. Rice did not credit Lead Stories in any of these articles.

Then Schenk went a step further and created a blog called the Honey Pot Times and uploaded a George Lucas death hoax. “I know [Rice] likes to steal stories approximately death hoaxes, so I created one for him,” he said.

He published a debunk of the hoax on the special Lead Stories homepage he created for Rice. Soon a computer using a LexisNexis IP address accessed the site, and roughly 30 minutes later, business2community.com’s most prolific writer published a record approximately the very same George Lucas death hoax.

“It proved Shawn blindly copied from other sites without checking or caring whether a hoax was actually being spread online or not. And that he undeniably relied on the work of other sites to find hoaxes, without credit or attribution,” Schenk said. “There was no possible way for him to indulge in seen that hoax other than via the debunk article on the fake homepage I served up to him.”

The process repeated itself again with a George Clooney death hoax on the Honey Pot Times. Schenk even created a Twitter account to share the hoaxes so that Rice would indulge in a tweet to embed in his stories. (whole of his debunks follow the same writing formula, and whole include sample tweets.) As expected, Rice embedded the tweets from the account in his stories.

Schenk shared the evidence with BuzzFeed News this week. While confirming the details, a reporter examined some of Rice’s stories to behold for plagiarism and quickly found seven examples within roughly an hour.

For example, Rice’s (now removed) article approximately the George Lucas death hoax included this passage:

Star Wars is an American epic space opera media franchise, centered on a film series created by Lucas. It depicts the adventures of characters “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far absent”. The franchise began in 1977 with the release of Episode IV: A unusual Hope (the title given in 1981), which became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); these three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy.

It’s plagiarized from Wikipedia:

Star Wars is an American epic space opera media franchise, centered on a film series created by George Lucas. It depicts the adventures of characters “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far absent”. The franchise began in 1977 with the release of the film Star Wars (later subtitled Episode IV: A unusual Hope in 1981), which became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); these three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy.

The same record also contains this text:

a young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-used Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring blueprint to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a snappily ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the unsafe mission — the Millennium Falcon.

It’s copied word for word from the promotional text of the unusual Star Wars film.

Another debunk with plagiarized text is a Rice record from January 2017 with the headline, “Elizabeth Warren Saying Raped Women Was Acceptable For Tolerance Of Muslims Is A Fake Quote.”

It included a lengthy passage approximately Planned Parenthood that is clearly plagiarized from the organization’s website:

In October 2016, Planned Parenthood turned 100 years strong. Planned Parenthood was founded on the revolutionary thought that women should indulge in the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams — no ceilings, no limits. Learn more approximately how 100 years of care, education, and activism indulge in changed everything.

nowadays, Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.

The five other plagiarized articles identified by BuzzFeed News included passages stolen from sources including the Hollywood Reporter, a Twitter Moment, a Change.org petition, the House Budget Committee of the US Congress, lawofficer.com, and the TV listings of local news websites.

BuzzFeed News sent detailed information approximately these examples of plagiarism to business2community.com’s managing editor and to Brian Rice, the cofounder of the site, who also happens to be Shawn Rice’s brother. (Brian Rice has a day job with the software company SAP, in addition to running business2community.com.) They did not reply, nor did they comment on the detailed breakdown of the sting operation Schenk executed. Shawn Rice also did not reply to emails or Facebook messages.

Now that the bulk of Rice’s work has been removed from the site, it’s impossible to determine how many stories included plagiarized fabric. But the number is nearly certainly high, given BuzzFeed News’ ability to find seven examples of plagiarism in a short period of time, and Schenk’s earlier finding of more than 150 offending stories.

BuzzFeed News asked Schenk via Skype how he feels now that close to 6,000 of Rice’s search-friendly posts are gone.

He responded by sending a photo of him holding up a large beer, and said, “I can now spend more time on finding and debunking fake news instead of thinking up unusual ways to stop that site from exploiting my tough work.”



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