Friday, October 22, 2021

This would-be fact-checker was accused of sexually harassing writer, blaming her for leaving him. It cost him his job.

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The founder of the fact-checking site Snopes, Paul Betko, used multiple pseudonyms while submitting articles for the site with “fuzzy, obviously Photoshopped titles,” according to a complaint filed by lawyers for The Los Angeles Times.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Amy Farley, a writer who has accused Mr. Betko of sexually harassing her, who worked at Snopes for a time. She also accused him of retaliating against her after she reported the allegations.

Since her investigation began, Mr. Betko has been fired by Snopes.com and is no longer working at the company.

Under his other name, “Richard John Coyne,” Mr. Betko submitted articles and editorials to Snopes, which called itself “the biggest fact-checking site in the world.”

He was working at Snopes as far back as October 2017, and according to news reports from May of last year, he was under investigation at the time. An investigation on the matter “concluded that Mr. Betko engaged in substantially similar conduct while identifying himself as Stephen Coyne,” an internal investigation report, obtained by The Los Angeles Times, said.

Mr. Betko offered a different version of events, according to The New York Times, who published a story in June about the internal investigation. Mr. Betko told the newspaper that he knew what he was doing was wrong, but did not know it would prove so damaging to the company.

He did not respond to a request for comment from The New York Times.

Snopes President Terry Hammon told the New York Times that Mr. Betko submitted fake content for the site, but that his edits met the site’s standards. Snopes also accused Mr. Betko of leaking fake content to The Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed News, and attempted to use his company email address to identify Ms. Farley.

“We are committed to a culture of accountability and we are cooperating with the Times on any investigative inquiries they may have,” Mr. Hammon told The New York Times.

Mr. Betko, in a profile piece in Slate, said that he has been under investigation by Snopes for six months. In the article, he declined to say who exactly was accusing him of sexual harassment. Snopes has also declined to name any of the women who made the allegations against Mr. Betko.

In the lawsuit, Ms. Farley’s lawyers allege that Mr. Betko had dozens of false statements about her on his Wikipedia page, which he altered to make it appear that he had adopted her photo for his Snopes profile.

“In some instances, he even used Ms. Farley’s photo from her high school yearbook,” the complaint said.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Betko changed her Wikipedia entry to include the following “uniquely offensive stereotypes.” He also created a pseudonymous online person who created posts and Facebook posts that were “knowingly false and offensive.”

“Ms. Farley, a woman in her thirties, was deprived of an opportunity to do what she loves for a singular reason: Mr. Betko believed he could get away with sexual misconduct,” the complaint said.

Mr. Betko was also accused of changing Ms. Farley’s Twitter biography on the social media site to describe her as “bridesmaid material.”

“Mr. Betko also changed Ms. Farley’s Wikipedia entry to create offensive stereotypes surrounding her purported bisexuality and transgender status,” the complaint said.

In court documents, the attorneys for Ms. Farley have asked the court to order Snopes to release “all documents related to Mr. Betko’s employment, specifically his personnel file, including any termination letters, emails, and communications concerning Mr. Betko’s employment, to Ms. Farley.”

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