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KPBS Midday Edition

Fact-Checking Website Snopes Gets Outpouring Of Financial Support Amid Lawsuit

A screenshot of Snopes' crowdfunding campaign, taken on Tuesday, July 25, shows the co-founder of the popular fact-checking website exceeded his $500,000 goal in a single day.
A screenshot of Snopes' crowdfunding campaign, taken on Tuesday, July 25, shows the co-founder of the popular fact-checking website exceeded his $500,000 goal in a single day.
Fact-Checking Website Snopes Gets Outpouring Of Financial Support Amid Lawsuit
Fact-Checking Website Snopes Gets Outpouring Of Financial Support Amidst Lawsuit GUEST:David Wagner, science and technology reporter, KPBS news

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The owner of www.snopes.com will have fax check in a courtroom. The Internet site that has become famous for combating news from Boca sources is embroiled in an ownership tug-of-war. Charges of mismanagement have been made against David Nicholson by the directors of a media company who plan to -- claim to add own half of the company. The suit is part of a takeover scheme and he has the backing of loyal users who pledged more than a half of 1 million dollars to keep www.snopes.com running. Joining me is David Wagner. Welcome.Hello.For those who have not heard of this, what is it how long is it been around ?For a long time, Snopes has been the go to site . They started in the mid-1990s. Mostly focusing on urban legends with wild rumors that you might see circulated in chain emails. They have really evolved into a news operation. Now, they need -- they debunk political news that you might see on Facebook and twitter. I have examples from their site. They have a claim, did Donald Trump say in 1998, in an interview that he would only run as a Republican because they are the dumbest group of voters? Snopes looked into that and found out it was false. They looked into a story that claimed a Wisconsin company is offering to microchip the employees. They was true. They fact checked things and they find sometimes that these crazy claims, there is some truth to them. Snopes has opened offices in San Diego. Last year, we had Brooke Michalski on midday addition. We have a clip here of her talking about her job.One of my favorite things to do is provide an earnest answer to ridiculous questions like did Russians land on Saturn? That makes it fun. You give people more information in an entertaining way. We do political stuff because there is so much stuff being flung around.How did this legal mess start at Snopes?It is complicated. It was founded by a husband and wife duo. They started a parent company called Bard of where they both had a 50% ownership. Now, they divorced and Barbara sold her half of the parent company to a digital media company called proper media which sought to improve content management and things like that. Apparently, their relationship with David Nicholson, the other 50% owner went bad. Now, what they are alleging is that Nicholson conspired with a proper media director to seize control over Snopes and arrested thataway. He said no. Proper media is the one holding Snopes hostage. They are not giving any advertising revenue that they need to run to him. That is why he went to this crowdfunding site to raise $500,000 to keep the site running. It is complicated. What we have are two parties who claim to own the parent company and each are accusing the other of trying to take it awayIs that the heart of the lawsuit ?Yes. This is a fight for ownership. There are complicated details. I put this question to the San Diego state business ethics instructor and a legal analyst. Here's how he answered it.This is an extensible fight with whether this company is going to make it going forward. If it does come who was going to be in control?One claim he is making is that proper media is withholding advertising revenue. Do you have a sense of how long this can go on without advertising revenue? Kennett don't -- run on donations ?I am not sure about the math but Nicholson has said he put out a call to keep the site running for several months as they figure out the legal struggle. In the long term, fee does not have access to the advertising revenue, I do not see how he can keep the site running in long-term.There is a court hearing scheduled in San Diego next week. This is a very complicated legal dispute. What do you think the public should take away from the story ?The real story is the outpouring of support that David Nicholson got. I suspect that a lot of the people who gave money to that campaign did not do so because they are trying to pick a side in this tug-of-war for ownership. They did it because they value what Snopes does come especially after the 2016 election. They see misinformation and they want someone like Snopes debunking and they value fact checkers.I have been speaking with David Wagner. Thank you.Thank you.

Fact-Checking Website Snopes Gets Outpouring Of Financial Support Amidst Lawsuit
Facing a lawsuit, one of the founders of the pioneering fact-checking website Snopes.com — which has opened offices in San Diego — has quickly raised over $500,000.

One of the founders of the pioneering fact-checking website Snopes.com has quickly raised over half a million dollars in support of the site, which is now embroiled in a legal battle in San Diego.

Snopes has been around for more than 20 years, debunking fake news long before fake news was a household term. But co-founder David Mikkelson now says a lawsuit from a San Diego digital media company threatens its future.

Mikkelson owns 50 percent of Snopes' parent company. After a divorce, his ex-wife sold her half of the company to the directors of a San Diego digital media firm, Proper Media, which sought to develop the website.

However, the business relationship went sour and now, Proper Media directors are suing Mikkelson, alleging that he conspired with one of its former partners to seize control of the site. Mikkelson has fired back, accusing Proper Media of holding Snopes and all of its advertising revenue hostage.

On Monday, Mikkelson put out a plea on a crowdfunding site, asking for $500,000 to keep Snopes running during this legal battle. By Tuesday, he had exceeded his goal.

On the funding page, Mikkelson wrote, "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 and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile."

Legal analyst and San Diego State University business ethics instructor Dan Eaton said the struggle over who owns this long-running site could be costly if it is not settled out of court.

"If this really goes the full distance, there are going to be an awful lot of resources that are devoted to this fight that could be better devoted to operations of Snopes, which everybody agrees is a very important website," Eaton said.

Snopes has opened offices in San Diego. Late last year, San Diego-based Snopes Managing Editor Brooke Binkowski went on KPBS Midday Edition to discuss the site's plans to help Facebook combat the kind of misinformation that spread on social media during the 2016 election.

"They send us lists of links that they've flagged as potentially iffy. And if it's something we've already debunked, we send them a link to our debunking," Binkowski said. Facebook can then flag certain stories as "disputed" and link to coverage from Snopes and other trustworthy outlets.

One of Proper Media's attorneys emailed KPBS a statement regarding the legal dispute, saying Mikkelson "has engaged in gross financial, technical, and corporate mismanagement" of Snopes, and that his crowdfunding campaign shows he "has drained the company's bank accounts and is unable to operate Snopes profitably without Proper Media's expertise and management."

A hearing at the San Diego County Superior Courthouse is set for next Friday.