At the moment, media outlets want nothing to do with BuzzFeed, the “news” website that published unverified, “fake” allegations against Donald Trump. The allegations are so flimsy that even Trump’s political opponents never used them.
What few know is that BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti has a history of knowingly spreading false information. He has used fraudulent websites and email accounts to pretend to be people he wished to defame. I was one of his victims.
But I wasn’t Peretti’s first victim. In 2001, MBA student Jeff Goldblatt set up a dating service called the Rejection Hotline, which was inadvertently in competition with Peretti’s newly created rejectionline.com. Peretti co-founded the service with his sister, Chelsea Peretti, who contacted Goldblatt in order to get information on his business. She “interviewed” him, pretending to be New York-based reporter Vanessa Holmes.
Then Jonah Peretti set up the website JeffGoldblatt.com, under the pretense that it was Goldblatt’s personal website. Using the address me@JeffGoldblatt.com, Peretti sent out emails that, according to Goldblatt, “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.”
Goldblatt contacted me after Peretti did the same thing to me in 2003. In my case, Peretti set up AskJohnLott.org and used the email address, john@AskJohnLott.org. Peretti’s expropriation of my name wasn’t for financial gain, but to support gun control.
Pretending to be me, Peretti sent out tens of thousands of mass emails lobbying against the proposed Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This bill, which passed in 2005, shielded gun makers from abusive lawsuits that were solely designed to put manufacturers out of business with overwhelming legal fees.
I was fairly well-known for my research on gun control, and my book “More Guns, Less Crime,” and Peretti sent emails under my name to convince people who that I had changed my mind and come out against the Act. The emails then urged people to ask their congressmen and Senators to oppose the bill.
A number of the recipients were people I knew, and some wrote back questioning why I would have changed my mind. But Peretti continued the charade in multiple email chains.
I first learned about the website from James K. Glassman, a former Washington Post columnist and later U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. He shared with me the email exchange that he had with Peretti’s fake John Lott.
Peretti had also used my name and picture to advise people on how to violate gun control laws.
Soon I was being contacted by hundreds of people around the country. I received many angry phone calls from people upset that I was supposedly advising people to break the law.
My emails to john@AskJohnLott.org asking who was behind the effort were ignored. The website’s registration didn’t help as it was supposedly registered to me. I spent money to find out who was behind these efforts. When I contacted Peretti, he denied any involvement. After I hired lawyers, Peretti finally included a disclaimer on the website, stating that he intended to parody me. But he still refused to take down the website down or stop sending emails.
Because Goldblatt didn’t have the money for a legal battle, I included him in my case.
It took a year-and-a-half to finally reach a legal settlement. Peretti, who worked for a company called Eyebeam, publicly acknowledged: “The AskJohnLott.org site was created by The Eyebeam Atelier, Inc. This site was never associated, endorsed or otherwise affiliated with John R. Lott, Jr. E-mail sent from the AskJohnLott.org domain that was identified as coming from Lott was also never associated, endorsed or otherwise affiliated with John R. Lott, Jr. Eyebeam deeply regrets any confusion and offers a formal apology to John R. Lott, Jr. The terms of the settlement are confidential.”
Peretti also apologized to Goldblatt and took down JeffGoldblat.com. I received an undisclosed monetary settlement.
This week, people are asking how BuzzFeed could possibly publish such “fake” news against Trump. They need look no further than BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti.