Legal Battle Could Kill Fact-Check Site Snopes.com

A contractual battle and a complicated divorce might mean the end of the fact-check site.
This story originally appeared on PCMag
Legal Battle Could Kill Fact-Check Site Snopes.com
Image credit: Snopes

Fact-check website Snopes.com is in danger of going dark, and that's no hoax.

The site today started a GoFundMe page, which is asking for $500,000 to help keep the site afloat. At the time of this article it currently raised just shy of $304,000. (Update: the campaign exceeded its goal.)

A company with which Snopes partnered for advertising "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," according to Snopes.

"Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, 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) in the meanwhile," Snopes says.

In the age of "fake news," Snopes is one of the go-to sites when you need to know if that crazy story you read on the internet is actually true. But according to court documents, a contractual battle and a complicated divorce might mean the end of Snopes.

The fight dates back to 2015, when David Mikkelson and his then-wife Barbara hired Proper Media to handle ad sales, placement and revenue for Snopes.com, which the Mikkelsons owned via their company, Bardav Inc.

The following year, however, David and Barbara divorced and each got 50 percent of Bardav. Barbara decided to sell her stake in Bardav to Proper Media. But because the terms of her agreement prevented her from selling to a company, Barbara sold her stake to Proper Media execs individually. Current Proper Media CEO Chris Richmond and President Drew Schoentrup each got 40 percent of Barbara's stake. Three others -- Tyler Dunn, Vincent Green and Ryan Miller -- each got just under 7 percent.

Earlier this year, David Mikkelson decided to end his deal with Proper Media, and gave them 60 days notice in March, he claims. In May, David asked for "certain information and data relating to Bardav and the Snopes.com website, of which Bardav is the legal owner but is presently in Proper Media's possession, custody or control," court filings say. Proper Media has not complied, according to David, who says it is "holding hostage the requested information and data."

According to Proper Media, however, David Mikkelson teamed up with Vincent Green -- who got that small stake from Barbara -- so that Mikkelson would control more than 50 percent of Snopes and not have to answer to Proper Media. According to Proper Media, Green locked Richmond and Schoentrup out of the Snopes content management system and stole $10,000 of computer equipment from the Proper Media offices.

Proper Media filed suit in May, as Courthouse News first reported. Bardav counter-sued a month later and did not mention Green.

In a statement to NiemanLab, Proper Media today said the Snopes fundraising effort "only confirms Proper Media's allegations that Mr. Mikkelson has drained the company's bank accounts and is unable to operate Snopes profitably without Proper Media's expertise and management."

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