Report: Snopes’ Ongoing Legal Battles Makes ‘Fact-Checking’ More Difficult

An audience member holds a fake news sign during a President Donald Trump campaign rally in Washington Township, Mich., Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

David Mikkelson, the co-founder of the so-called “fact-checking” website Snopes, has been entangled in a legal battle with his former business associates, who claim that he has embezzled the company’s funds, among other allegations. Meanwhile, Snopes is reportedly understaffed and finding that “fact-checking” has been getting more difficult.

Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson has been involved in a lawsuit with his former business associates at Proper Media, the advertising firm that has assisted the fact-checking website with building traffic and ad revenue, according to a recent report by The Seattle Times. The legal dispute has been going on since 2017.

The report adds that the lawsuit involves allegations of financial mismanagement, conspiracy, and embezzlement and that the Big Tech-approved “fact-checking” website has been struggling, trying to keep up with fact-checking demands while operating under capacity.

“We could have had a larger staff of more fact checkers and more editors,” said Mikkelson,”We could have put more resources into developing the technological tools that we use.”

But representatives of Proper Media suggest that Mikkelson has engaged in embezzlement, using company funds to pay for his “lavish” vacations.

“There was a sense that David is siphoning money from the business to fund a fairly extravagant lifestyle,” said Stephen Fox, an attorney representing Proper Media.

On Tuesday, Snopes released a statement on its website soliciting readers for donations to help pay for the company’s legal fees.

“We’d rather be focused exclusively on fact-checking and investigative reporting right now, but over the last two years a legal battle has forced Snopes to fight for its very survival,” read the statement.

Snopes went on in its statement to accuse Proper Media’s Chris Richmond and Drew Schoentrup of “severely hindering the operations of Snopes.com for over two years,” as well as expanding their litigation “by suing us over this very GoFundMe campaign.”

According to The Seattle Times, Proper Media’s intent all along was to acquire Snopes, noting that the advertising firm’s co-founder Drew Schoentrup said Proper Media wanted to add the fact-checking website to a “portfolio of media sites.”

Moreover, the advertising firm had purchased 50 percent of Bardav — Snopes’ parent company — from Mikkelson’s ex-wife after the two divorced in 2015. Mikkelson, however, was reportedly not willing to sell his half of Bardav.

Schoenturp and Fox also allege that Mikkelson tried to take control of the company by convincing two of Proper Media’s stakeholders to join Bardav. Mikkelson views it differently though, claiming he had no involvement in any stakeholders leaving, and that Proper Media had “pissed off their own partners and drove them away.”

Meanwhile, Snopes is operating with a staff of only fifteen employees, while allegedly trying to combat “more complex and important varieties of fake news,” according to The Seattle Times.

The “complexity” aspect is questionable, however, as Snopes has been caught repeatedly “fact-checking” the satirical Christian website, Babylon Bee — a bizarre move, given that the website openly advertises itself as a satire site.

Alas, while the staff at Snopes continues to struggle with fact-checking the ever-complex satirical websites, jokes, and memes, its “very survival” is on the line.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.

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