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Books BuzzFeed hires author of award-winning book on journalistic errors to head Canadian team

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

BuzzFeed, the news and viral content factory that has sometimes been burned by made-up news stories, has hired a leading warrior against fake viral content to head up its new Canadian editorial operations.

Craig Silverman, author of an award-winning book about journalistic errors, will lead a small team of reporters based in Toronto and Ottawa, as the New York-based site expands into its eighth international territory.

In an interview this week before BuzzFeed announced his hiring on Friday, Silverman told The Globe and Mail he would be adding two political journalists and a social-news editor, who will create content around stories that are blowing up online. He will also oversee two staffers creating so-called buzz items, non-journalistic ephemera calculated to be widely shared.

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Silverman said that while BuzzFeed may be covering subjects and stories already in the news, it will take a different approach. "We won't be looking at what happened today in Parliament. At times we'll be satirical, humour-driven, personality-driven, and I think that's a different thing that doesn't exist today," he said.

Until now, BuzzFeed's Canadian editorial content has been limited: It launched a Canadian Twitter feed last summer that traffics heavily in Canuck clichés. (Earlier this week, it linked to a BuzzFeed item headlined: "Here Is Every Canadian Province Ranked By How Much They Secretly Love Nickelback." Another item ran then-and-now photos of the cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation.)

The site, which has approximately 900 editorial, video, engineering and sales staff around the world, says it has more than 200 million monthly unique views, almost half of which originate outside the United States. That success has led to editorial operations in Britain, France, Brazil, India, Germany, Australia and Mexico.

Silverman added that BuzzFeed's Canadian coverage would evolve in a natural trial-and-error process rooted in data analytics. "We're going to start publishing things and we're going to look very closely about how it performs," he said.

He noted that in Britain, much of the site's early celebrity coverage was heartwarming in tone. "They found out that stuff didn't do well at all," he said. "Nostalgic and uplifting didn't work in the U.K., so they started creating sharper and more satirical stuff."

Silverman, who will move to Toronto from Montreal, added that he already has reports about what Canadians are reading on BuzzFeed. "We're going to make some assumptions out of that, then we're going to test them, then we're going to adapt. … I don't know if there's a lot of places that can do that really, really quickly."

The BuzzFeed model, which grew out of research by founder and chief executive officer Jonah Peretti, is based on analyzing what sort of content people are likely to share with their social-media networks. Much of that content is identity-driven and based on eliciting empathy in users.

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Silverman's hiring grew out of reporting he did with the British division of BuzzFeed about an Austria-based news agency that has been the source of numerous fake stories. Last summer, BuzzFeed and many others fell for an item published by Central European News about a bear that attacked a Russian man and was scared off by his Justin Bieber ringtone. In a report for the Poynter journalism institute, where he is an adjunct member of the faculty, Silverman, author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, traced the too-good-to-be-true story to a Russian-language newspaper, which made no mention of Bieber.

Part of his focus at BuzzFeed will be helping the site expand its fight against fake news. Last year, Silverman launched Emergent, a project designed to fight the spread of viral news. He said he will be ending that project and bringing some of his work into BuzzFeed in hopes of figuring out how to create "viral debunkings" of fake news stories that travel as far and wide as the original hoaxes themselves.

BuzzFeed's launch comes weeks after Vice, another popular U.S.-based digital site, launched a video news operation in Canada in partnership with Rogers Communications.

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