The CEO of Snopes.com, the fact-checking website that was recently named as one of Facebook’s “fake news” arbiters, has been accused in divorce proceedings of appropriating company funds which he allegedly spent on expensive holidays and prostitutes.
It was announced last week that Snopes would be helping Facebook to determine and label “fake news” with the help of ABC News and Politifact. The Daily Mail reports that the CEO of Snopes, David Mikkelson, is currently embroiled in a vicious legal battle with his former wife and Snopes co-founder Barbara Mikkelson. The couple divorced sometime around 2014, but legal proceedings have continued between the couple.
Barbara has claimed that her former husband embezzled money from the company. Court documents obtained by the Daily Mail state that Barbara accused David of “raiding the corporate business Bardav bank account for his personal use and attorney fees.” Barbara also claims that David embezzled $98,000 over four years, which “he expended upon himself and the prostitutes he hired.” Barbara claims that David spent $10,000 from their business accounts between April and June of 2016 to fund an expensive 24-day holiday for him and his “girlfriend.”
In a court filing from June, Barbara claims that David has “been depleting the corporate account by spending monies from it on his personal expenses,” and that David’s access to account debit cards and cheque books must immediately be revoked “right away before there are no funds left in the corporate account.”
Another point of contention during proceedings was David’s salary. David demanded that his salary be increased from $240,000 a year to $360,000, a sum that David agreed he would settle for, but believed was below “industry standards.” He argued that he should be making up to $720,000 a year. “As I said, based on industry standards and our revenues, my salary should be about 2x to 3x what it is now,” David wrote in an email to Barbara in April of 2016. “I’ll settle for $360K with the understanding that it’s to be retroactive to the start of the year.” Barbara disputed David’s request, stating that it was “not even in the galaxy of reasonable.”
According to the Daily Mail, David has remarried since his divorce from Barbara in 2014. His current wife, Elyssa Young, works as an administrative worker at Snopes, but she previously had a lengthy career as an escort and adult film star working under the name Erin O’Bryn. Reviews for Young’s “services” have been left on her personal escort website as recently as 2015. Young’s websites and Twitter account describe her as “a mature and experienced courtesan, idealist, activist & dreamer.” Her website further states, “Here’s the donation I request for my time, companionship, and entertainment” with “non-negotiable” rates of $1,200 for her minimum four hours and $5,000 for 24 hours.
Mikkelson has previously stated that Snopes does not take any political positions whatsoever. His current wife, however, has a history in politics. The Daily Mail reports that Young ran for the U.S. Congress in Hawaii on the Libertarian ticket in 2004, during which time she distributed cards that read “Re-Defeat Bush” and condoms with the words “Don’t Get Screwed Again” printed on the wrapping. On her campaign website, Young outright stated, “Let’s face it, I am an unlikely candidate. I fully admit that I am a courtesan.” Young’s campaign however was unsuccessful, and she lost to Democratic incumbent Neil Abercrombie.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, David Mikkelson stated that Snopes did not have a “standardized procedure” for fact-checking “since the nature of this material can vary widely.” He also stated that the process “involves multiple stages of editorial oversight, so no output is the result of a single person’s discretion.” When asked about the requirements for becoming an employee at Snopes, Mikkelson stated, “Accordingly, our editorial staff is drawn from diverse backgrounds; some of them have degrees and/or professional experience in journalism, and some of them don’t.”
Also according to the Daily Mail, another one of Snopes’ lead fact-checkers has a history of sex blogging. Writing under the pseudonym Vice Vixen, Snopes fact-checker Kim LaCapria regularly wrote about sex and fetish gear on her own blog, which was described as a lifestyle blog “with a specific focus on naughtiness, sin, carnal pursuits, and general hedonism and bonne vivante-ery.” LaCapria’s blog often featured reviews of sex toys. One particular review reads, “If you are doing something to your fella, and you apply this to the base of his cash-and-prizes while you carry on, he will scream and perhaps cry.” On another blog, LaCapria once described what she did on her day off, writing that she “played scrabble, smoked pot, and posted to Snopes.” She then added, “That’s what I did on my day ‘on,’ too.”
Facebook has not yet stated when Snopes will be beginning their “fake news” flagging operations on the Facebook platform. Facebook’s official announcement of the program can be read here.