Before there was “fake news” — and before there was anyone around to debunk it on the Internet — there was Snopes.com. The fact-checking site started busting myths, blasting urban legends and generally calling out bull in 1994, well before many people even got near a Web browser.
But here’s an apparently true fact about Snopes itself: The pioneering site says it might not last much longer.
In a note posted on the site Monday, Snopes — which has debunked stories on subjects as varied as Bigfoot, Miranda Cosgrove and President Trump — said it was “in danger of closing its doors” as a result of a legal dispute with an “outside vendor.” Snopes is asking its readers for contributions as the dispute drags on.
Snopes alleges that Proper Media, a Web services provider, is withholding advertising revenue, thus starving it financially. “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,” the posting says.
But Proper Media says Snopes should check its facts. It has a different version of events.
The San Diego-based company said in a lawsuit against Snopes’s parent company, Bardav, that it is more than a mere “outside vendor” — it is actually a co-owner of Snopes, having paid $3.6 million.
The suit, filed in May, says Proper bought half of Bardav last year from Snopes co-founder Barbara Mikkelson. The company said it completed the purchase after Mikkelson divorced her husband, David Mikkelson, Snopes’s other co-founder.
David Mikkelson, who continues to run Snopes, still owns his 50 percent of Bardav, which takes its name from the former couple’s first names (Snopes itself comes from the fictional family featured in three novels by William Faulkner).
Proper’s attorney, Karl S. Kronenberger, disputes Snopes’s suggestion that it faces financial ruin. The company alleges in its suit that Snopes is “highly profitable,” in part as a result of its agreement with Facebook to provide fact-checking services after fake news flooded the social media giant during the 2016 election. The site remains popular, attracting 7.4 million visitors in June, according to ComScore.
Kronenberger also said Proper disbursed $100,000 in disputed advertising funds to Bardav last week. “The statement that advertising money is being withheld is just false,” he said in an interview.
Bardav filed a cross-complaint in June, saying it was within its rights to drop Proper Media as its ad-services vendor.
In an interview, Mikkelson said his company hasn’t received disbursements from Proper Media since February, outside of the funds it received last week. “I defy anyone to run a company of this size with zero revenue and not run into a cash-flow problems,” he said. Snopes employs 16 people.
Mikkelson also said Snopes would have a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars “if we weren’t having to deal with this ridiculous” dispute. “This is a booming time for the fact-checking industry,” he said, because of all the discussion about “fake news.”
The site, which was hoping to raise $500,000 from readers, had surpassed that goal with more than $520,000 in pledges as of Tuesday morning.