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Snopes is in danger of closing its doors due to a business dispute

The well-known fact-checking site claims it's being held hostage by an outside vendor. But under the surface, there's a fight between contending ownership groups.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The fact-checking site Snopes was founded in a more innocent time, 1994, by Barbara and David Mikkelson. At that time, its primary mission was researching urban legends. Since then, it has become one of the most popular fact-checking websites, especially as the Trump administration has continued its assault on facts under the rubric "fake news."

The site now has a page pointing to a site called SaveSnopes, which claims it is "in danger of closing its doors. So, for the first time in our history, we are turning to you, our readership, for help." The reason? The free-to-use Snopes site has no sponsors, outside investors, or funding. It's only source of revenue is online advertising. But that funding stream has been cut off.

"Unfortunately, we have been cut off from our historic source of advertising income," explains Snopes. "We had previously contracted with an outside vendor to provide certain services for Snopes.com. That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage."

Snopes staff, led by David Mikkelson, continues to "maintain editorial control (for now), the vendor will not relinquish the site's hosting to our control, so we cannot modify the site, develop it, or -- most crucially -- place advertising on it. The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us."

Who is this outside vendor? Snopes doesn't say. The internet whois utility reveals only that the site's web registry information is hidden by Perfect Privacy, a domain privacy site.

ZDNet has asked Snopes for clarification on who this vendor is and further details on the dispute, but it has not received a reply as of yet.

However, according to a lawsuit between Snopes' parent company, Bardav, and Proper Media, a media company filed on May 4, 2017, after a contentious divorce, Barbara Mikkelson sold her 50-percent equity in Bardav to Proper Media in July 2016. Further, "Defendant David Mikkelson ("Mikkelson") has engaged in a lengthy scheme of concealment and subterfuge to gain control of the company and to drain its profits."

The suit stated Proper Media was "already managing a significant amount of the operation of Snopes." A Proper Media minority owner, Vincent Green, then allied himself with David Mikkelson. Since then, Proper Media claims, "Mikkelson conspired with Green to block Proper Media's access to the personnel, accounts, tools, and data necessary to manage Snopes."

Proper Media goes on to state that under its General Services Agreement with Bardav, it is "responsible for managing all content and advertising accounts for Snopes." The lawsuit also accuses David Mikkelson of misusing Bardav funds for legal fees related to his divorce and travel expenses from when he went on a honeymoon to Asia in late 2016 with his new bride -- Snopes employee Elyssa Young.

In a statement, Bardav replied it "recently terminated an agreement for Proper Media to provide development and ad tech services to the Snopes.com website. This baseless lawsuit was filed just before the effective date of the termination and appears to be an effort by Proper Media to retaliate against Bardav for that termination and to impede the company's plans to transition from Proper Media to a new services provider."

It appears, practically speaking, Proper Media controls the site and has cut Bardav's access to all its services except the content management system.

In its plea for money, Snopes doesn't mention the lawsuit. Instead, it says: "Having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees). Snopes is asking the community to donate what they can."

Snopes is raising money using GoFundMe. SaveSnopes's goal is $500,000. In its first four hours, Snopes has raised over $50,000 from just under 2,000 donors. This funding campaign was started by David Mikkelson.

The Save Snopes site is not hosted on the main Snopes servers. Its domain registry information is hidden by another domain-privacy company: Contact Privacy.

Donations are not tax-deductible as a charitable contribution. The Save Snopes page promises that "all funds will be allocated in their entirety to operating expenses, legal fees, and the continuation of our overall mission to fight misinformation."

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