Fact-checking site gets lifeline after donation drive

By Sam Bright
BBC Trending

image copyrightGoFundMe/Snopes.com

One of the most established myth-busting websites raised more than $500,000 from public donations in a single day after becoming embroiled in a bitter legal dispute.

Long before "fake news" became a common refrain, there was Snopes. The site was established in 1994 with the aim of debunking internet conspiracy theories and is now visited by millions each month.

But recently the site has run into significant problems. Snopes claims that its funding stream has been blocked by the agency that controls its online advertising. An open letter posted on the website yesterday claimed that its advertising revenue, its only source of income, had been cut off - leaving Snopes without enough money to pay staff and legal costs.

The dispute revolves around Proper Media, an advertising agency that started providing website development services to Snopes in 2015.

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In July 2016, Proper Media bought 50% of Snopes' parent company, called Bardav. However, relations between Snopes and Proper Media broke down in March 2017, and Snopes founder David Mikkelson cancelled the contract between the two companies. According to Mikkelson, Proper Media has refused to recognise the termination of this agreement, and continues to post adverts on Snopes without sharing the revenue.

Mikkelson told BBC Trending: "Proper Media has no valid legal grounds for contesting the perfectly legal cancellation of a contract - one that they themselves drafted."

He claims that the contract contains the express provision that either party can cancel it at any time, for any reason. However, Proper Media believes that Mikkelson does not have the authority to cancel their agreement, because he is not the company's sole director.

The contract dispute is one of a number of claims and counterclaims flying back and forth between the two sides.

In response to the dispute and the ad revenue block, Mikkelson set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding page with a target of $500,000. The site achieved this figure at 15:00 BST Tuesday - approximately 24 hours after the campaign was launched. Roughly 18,000 donors have jumped to its rescue.

Many supporters took to Twitter - encouraging others to donate using the hashtag #SaveSnopes:

image copyright@wrkngbrkfst

BBC Trending has approached Proper Media for comment.

Estimates suggest that Snopes' operating costs are close to $100,00 a month. Given the added pressure of legal fees, the financial position of the company still seems uncertain. A court in San Diego is due to hear the competing claims on 4 August.

Blog by Sam Bright

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