Home » Vivek Ramaswamy is waging an expensive trolling campaign on BuzzFeed

Vivek Ramaswamy is waging an expensive trolling campaign on BuzzFeed

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New York
CNN
 — 

Vivek Ramaswamy is waging an expensive trolling campaign on BuzzFeed

Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy — who has an extensive history promoting lies and conspiracy theories, including around the January 6 insurrection, the Sept. 11 attacks, and legitimacy of the 2020 vote — outlined his plan on Tuesday to revive the once high-flying progressive media company, which he disclosed earlier this month he had taken an activist stake in.

In a letter to BuzzFeed’s board, a copy of which Ramaswamy posted online, the MAGA hardliner and former Republican presidential candidate recommended laying off large swaths of the company’s existing staff. He encouraged BuzzFeed’s board to transform the outlet into a creator-driven platform, suggesting it hire personalities akin to fellow radicals Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson. He requested that the board add three unnamed directors to its ranks to increase “diversity of thought.” And, finally, Ramaswamy implored BuzzFeed to issue a public apology to the country for having supposedly lied about Donald Trump, Covid-19 and various other issues.

“Address your audience directly and candidly admit: We failed in our obligation to tell you the truth,” Ramaswamy encouraged BuzzFeed. “By both omission and commission, we repeatedly lied on issues of national importance, and so did the rest of the media.”

Needless to say, Ramaswamy’s proposal is not a serious one. He obviously knows that BuzzFeed is not going be issuing any apologies for supposedly lying to the public. And it goes without saying that BuzzFeed co-founder and boss Jonah Peretti is not going to adopt a business plan that would deform his company and remold it into a Rumble-like platform that would disseminate MAGA disinformation for profit.

“What few business ideas he presents in his letter are distinctly un-original and reflects media truisms and conventional platitudes, none of which could possibly be new to BuzzFeed or any experienced media leaders,” Jeffrey A Sonnenfeld, the renowned professor and senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, told me Tuesday. “He praises his three nominees for the board and pressures BuzzFeed into accepting them without publicly identifying who they are and whether they are qualified beyond their loyalty to Vivek. He is, in short, trying to hijack BuzzFeed and turn it into a pliable Vivek Ramaswamy in-house news organ — VivekNews so to speak.”

While BuzzFeed was once the upstart darling of the digital media era, soaring with massive audience scale on the back of social media referrals and quirky quizzes, changes to Facebook and other platforms’ algorithms took the wind out of the outlet’s sails. Since BuzzFeed went public in 2021 via a SPAC, shares in the company have plunged 92%, trading at $3 on Tuesday. Though the company has fallen on hard times, most notably shuttering its award-winning news division and selling off Complex, it continues to operate The Huffington Post, Tasty, First We Feast and other major internet brands.

Peretti, in his emailed response to Ramaswamy, was more cordial than Sonnenfeld. But it was apparent that he does not view the right-wing entrepreneur’s ideas for the future of BuzzFeed as compelling.

“Based on your letter, you have some fundamental misunderstandings about the drivers of our business, the values of our audience, and the mission of the company,” Peretti wrote. “I’m very skeptical it makes business sense to turn BuzzFeed into a creator platform for inflammatory political pundits. And we’re definitely not going to issue an apology for our Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism.”

Peretti said he does “welcome outside perspectives from shareholders” and would meet with Ramaswamy. Though in doing so, Peretti made it clear Ramaswamy does not call the shots at the company and would have to consult with Peretti’s executive assistant to “schedule a time to meet.”

Indeed, while Ramaswamy disclosed that he has taken an 8.3% stake in BuzzFeed’s class A shares, a position he said he continues to increase, he has little actual power over the direction of the company. That is because Peretti owns 96% of class B shares, which each come with 50 votes compared to the single vote a class A share offers. As it currently stands, Peretti has 64% voting power compared to Ramaswamy’s paltry 2.6%. In other words, Peretti remains — by far — the actual boss at BuzzFeed. Ramaswamy’s antics might generate noise, but that’s all it ultimately is.

So what does Ramaswamy really want from this affair? Occam’s razor would suggest the noise and attention it brings, which has been the apparent motivating factor behind the various moves he has made in recent years, including running for president.

As Sonnenfeld derived from his letter, Ramaswamy’s proposal “oozes with self-promotion and seemingly reflects an ideological crusade much more than a serious business turnaround plan.”

Asked how Peretti and the BuzzFeed board should address Ramaswamy’s activist stake, Sonnenfeld was not subtle: “Ramaswamy has little credibility amongst the investors who comprise BuzzFeed’s shareholder base, less credibility with their subscribers, and BuzzFeed’s board should not allow him to hijack the company with such a minor stake and turn BuzzFeed into the Vivek Ramaswamy in-house news organ.”

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