Snopes.com, one of the internet's first and most famous fact-checking websites, said Monday that a previous website hosting vendor continues to "hold the Snopes.com web site hostage," and the site is in danger of shutting down if it doesn't raise $500,000.
Snopes has started a GoFundMe campaign and has raised just under $55,000 by just over 2,000 people in 4 hours.
According to the letter on GoFundMe titled "Please help save Snopes.com!" and on the new website SaveSnopes.com, the contract between Snopes and Proper Media, a private company that manages the Snopes.com web property, ended earlier this year. But Proper Media won't release the site back to Snopes, Snopes wrote. As a result, Snopes can't put advertising on its site. Because advertising is Snopes's only revenue stream, the site is now in danger of shutting down, the company said.
This campaign is a part of a legal dispute that's been happening all year. In May, Proper Media filed a complaint against Snopes owner David Mikkelson and corporate co-owner of Snopes, Bardav, Inc., alleging breach of contract and civil conspiracy.
"This case involves unlawful jockeying for ownership and control of the fact-checking website Snopes.com," the complaint reads. "But while Snopes is built entirely around the concepts of transparency and truth, its founder, Defendant David Mikkelson, has engaged in a lengthy scheme of concealment and subterfuge to gain control of the company and to drain its profits."
Bardav filed a cross-complaint against Proper Media in June also alleging breach of contract.
"Proper Media failed to perform its contractual and legal obligations and Bardav eventually terminated the contract in accordance with its terms," the cross-complaint reads. "Proper Media is now wrongfully withholding money owed to Bardav and effectively holding the Snopes.com website hostage by preventing Bardav from moving the website, advertising and other back-end functions to another service provider."
According to the original complaint, Proper Media acquired 50 percent of Snopes after a "contentious" divorce between David and Barbara Mikkelson in July 2016. After divorce proceedings resolved, Ms. Mikkelson sold her equity in Snopes to Proper Media.
I contacted Proper Media and corresponded with Karl Kronenberger via email. He's the attorney for Proper Media who filed the complaint against David Mikkelson and Bardav.
Kronenberger rejects the version of events described in the "Please help save Snopes.com!" GoFundMe letter. He pointed out that Proper Media is a 50% co-owner of Bardav, and that David Mikkelson faces pending lawsuit alleging "gross financial, technical, and corporate mismanagement."
"It is the height of irony that in today's post, Mr. Mikkelson attempts to rewrite history by saying Snopes 'began as a small one-person effort in 1994'—erasing his co-founder, former partner, and wife of many years, Barbara Mikkelson, who owned 50 percent of Bardav before selling her interest to Proper Media in 2016," Kronenberger said.
I also contacted David Mikkelson, but he did not return my request for comment in time for publication. I will update this story if I hear back. I also contacted every Snopes staff member with a public Facebook page, but the two who responded—Alex Kasprak and Brooke Binkowski—were not able to make public comments about the campaign.
In any event, Snopes users are donating and flocking to social media to express their support for the fact-checking site, which has gained new prominence since the popularization of the term "fake news." In fact, "Fake News" and "Donald Trump" are among the Top Tags listed in the header of the Snopes website.