Locked in an ownership dispute playing out in court, the online fact-checker Snopes called on readers Monday for financial support to continue its mission of battling misinformation.
The site’s team alleged in a blog post that an outside vendor is “essentially [holding] the Snopes.com web site hostage,” harvesting the advertising revenue that has supported its operations since 1994. As of Tuesday morning, supporters had met the $500,000 GoFundMe goal the mythbusting outlet says it must reach to stay afloat.
“Although we 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 Snopes team wrote. “The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us.”
But a New York Times follow-up Monday night suggests the situation is more complicated than initially revealed. Snopes owner Bardav and Proper Media, a vendor that provides the fact-checking site ad and tech services, have filed dueling lawsuits and are set to appear in court next week. At issue, the Times reported, is the structure of the company’s board—and whether co-founder David Mikkelson has unilateral power to terminate Proper Media’s contract, which he attempted this spring.
From the Times:
Proper Media considers itself an owner of Bardav, not a vendor. As Proper Media tells it, Barbara Mikkelson, Mr. Mikkelson’s ex-wife, sold her 50 percent share to Proper Media in 2016, but for tax purposes it was bought in the name of its individual members “for the benefit of Proper Media.” Two Proper Media officers, Drew Schoentrup and Christopher Richmond, would get 20 percent stakes in Bardav, while three others would own 3.33 percent stakes.
Proper Media said the deal included Mr. Schoentrup taking a seat on a two-person board alongside Mr. Mikkelson.
Proper Media’s lawyer told the Times that it has continued operating as if its contract with Bardav remains valid, and the sides agreed in court last week that the former would release $100,000 in ad revenue to the latter “on the condition that the money be used for expenses and not be paid to Mr. Mikkelson.” Alleging wasteful spending by the site co-founder, Proper Media hopes the judge will remove him from the company entirely.
Snopes, known for in-depth research into political claims, urban legends, and viral topics, has grown considerably in recent years as fact-checking has flourished. It seeks the remainder of ad revenue accrued since it attempted to end Proper Media’s contract more than two months ago.
“Our legal team is fighting hard for us,” its team wrote Monday, “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.”
Mikkelson added in an interview with the Times that the site wouldn’t last “a whole lot longer” without an infusion of cash.
Splinter has reached out to Snopes for comment and will update this story with any new information.