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Fact-checking and Rumor-dispelling Site Snopes.com Held Hostage By vendor (savesnopes.com) 401

Snopes.com, which began as a small one-person effort in 1994 and has since become one of the Internet's oldest and most popular fact-checking sites, is in danger of closing its doors. From a report: Since our inception, we have always been a self-sustaining site that provides a free service to the online world: we've had no sponsors, no outside investors or funding, and no source of revenue other than that provided by online advertising. Unfortunately, we have been cut off from our historic source of advertising income. We had previously contracted with an outside vendor to provide certain services for Snopes.com. That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage. Although we maintain editorial control (for now), the vendor will not relinquish the site's hosting to our control, so we cannot modify the site, develop it, or -- most crucially -- place advertising on it. The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us. 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.
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Fact-checking and Rumor-dispelling Site Snopes.com Held Hostage By vendor

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  • by Aequitarum Custos ( 1614513 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:33PM (#54869099) Homepage
    ... by going to snopes?
  • Rumor (Score:5, Funny)

    by allo ( 1728082 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:33PM (#54869101)

    Already debunked by snopes.

    • Re:Rumor (Score:5, Informative)

      by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:35PM (#54869115)

      Yes, "debunked" here:

      http://www.snopes.com/save-sno... [snopes.com] :-/

  • The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us.

    How is this not outright theft? If they are failing to pay you money they are contractually obligated to pay, wouldn't that invalidate the contract, or put them in an actionable position for damages?
  • More to the story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by farble1670 ( 803356 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:38PM (#54869139)

    That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage.

    There's almost always 2 sides of the story, and Snopes isn't doing themselves any favors failing to acknowledge the other side's grievances. I'd sure want to understand the big picture here before donating.

    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:47PM (#54869219) Homepage Journal

      There's almost always 2 sides of the story, and Snopes isn't doing themselves any favors failing to acknowledge the other side's grievances. I'd sure want to understand the big picture here before donating.

      Yup. No mention of the party, the contract details, etc. Just "give us money to file a lawsuit". It's hard for us to figure out what's really going on, especially because they used a Private Registration service. I really encourage people to never do that except for small non-commercial websites.

      They apparently have 14 people on staff - this is a small business but not a mom & pop that could easily be running on the razor's edge.

      Rating: partly true.

      • Re:More to the story (Score:5, Informative)

        by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @04:15PM (#54869443)

        Just "give us money to file a lawsuit".

        More like, "give us money to defend against a lawsuit that was filed against us months ago, which we're not going to mention because it might make us sound unsympathetic (at the very least)." The complaint is here [poynter.org].

        • Re:More to the story (Score:5, Informative)

          by gmack ( 197796 ) <gmack&innerfire,net> on Monday July 24, 2017 @05:14PM (#54869911) Homepage Journal

          So to summarize:
          Ex partner / ex wife sells her half of Bardav(Snopes) to Proper Media.. but not really because that would illegal since companies can not own shares in type S corporations.. so instead she cut her share up between Proper Media's owners as an end run around the law.
          She told them it was permitted according to Snopes bylaws but now there is a question if that's true, in which case they should be suing her.
          They accuse Green from Proper Media of working exclusively on Snopes and not other projects.
          Green (and partial stock holder) jumps ship after the fight and aligns with Mikkelson giving Mikkelson just over 50% and control of Bardav (Snopes).
          Green takes 3 employees and their equipment with him. Proper media considers it theft.
          A bunch of angry ramblings about Expenses they don't think should have been permitted.
          Accusations of Fraud for wanting a larger salary than they think is appropriate

          There is nothing here that makes me want to take Proper Media's side in this. From their own words, they put themselves into the middle of a messy divorce by offering to buy out the ex wife and were shocked when that didn't go over well.

          • There was a loyalty agreement that the site remains under control of proper media. It seems that Mikkelson also used the site to pay for his divorce expenses and just took what he thinks the corporation owed him as well as outright theft of employees and equipment.

            Short: Mikkelson screwed over his partners and got caught stealing from his own company.

            • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @07:16PM (#54870837)

              Sounds to me more like Snopes was always mainly Milkkelson's creation. And he got stiffed by his wife when they divorced.

              I say this for 2 reasons. Snopes was Mikkelson's username on Usenet which he used for debunking myths before the couple ever met.

              And now, the site continues to be run, just as before editorially by Mikkelson, without input by his ex-wife, and certainly no input by Proper Media, who's connection was only ever as the buyer of the wife's share.

              Mikkelson is Snopes. It wouldn't be Snopes any more if the site was wrestled away from him. In much the same way that Slashdot isn't really the old Slashdot anymore after it's being bought out and run be different people at least twice over.

              Clearly there needs to be some kind of financial settlement, as Proper Media bought a share, and have since been taking the entire advertising revenue. But it would be wrong if the site were taken away from Mikkelson, or if he was left with no way of running it as a financially viable site.

              • by makomk ( 752139 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2017 @09:06AM (#54873597) Journal

                Barbara Mikkelson put a huge and very visible amount of work into the site over, I think, pretty much its entire two-decade-long existence. It was quite common to come across fact checks researched and written by her. Before their divorce the site was generally presented as a joint effort by the Mikkelsons.

    • Re:More to the story (Score:5, Interesting)

      by msauve ( 701917 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @04:16PM (#54869459)
      As mentioned somewhere below (citing Techcrunch [techcrunch.com]) - this isn't a vendor/contract issue. The two equal owners of Snopes (via Bardav, Inc.) divorced, and one sold their share to the company running the web site. Now, the other owner apparently wants to move the website elsewhere.

      It's a dispute between two equal parties in a company trying to take it in different directions. Since the party seeking donations isn't being upfront and honest about things, and actually seems to be deliberately deceptive, I tend to support the other side.
      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        I feel like Paul Harvey...and now for the rest of the story...

        Google "Elyssa Young snopes"
      • by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

        It's far more than that. The group that bought out the wife claims they have been frozen out of management and the other partner is draining funds from the company. the complaint [poynter.org] paints a dirty picture:

        "Mikkelson was unhappy that Barbara maintained ownership of half of what he always considered to be his company after the divorce. Thus, after Proper Media’s purchase of Barbara’s share, Mikkelson sought to finally gain control of Bardav by aligning and conspiring with Green. Although Green purp

      • From reading the complaint, since the shares could not be sold to a corp, they were given to idnividuals at the LLC under the agreement they would be holding it for the LLC (whether that is really clean and ethical is another question). But one of them "green" was convinced by the 50% owner to side with him, what proper LLC in their complaint see as conspiracy. If it is true and legal, then he HAS more than 50% under control and therefore proper media llc cannot force anymore those holding more than 50% to
    • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
      For anyone interested, the gofundme update #1 linked to an article [poynter.org] with far more details.

      They've raised $111k out of their $500k goal in the 6 hours they've been up so far (4000+ donations).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:39PM (#54869147)

    This is precisely why you must always OWN your DNS and Hosting yourself. Never, EVER let someone else register and host your domain for you. Always DO IT YOURSELF or find yourself in the same boat with Snopes.

    • This is precisely why you must always OWN your DNS and Hosting yourself. Never, EVER let someone else register and host your domain for you. Always DO IT YOURSELF or find yourself in the same boat with Snopes.

      Never, EVER co-own a company with your spouse, then get divorced, and your spouse sells his or her share to a company (technically, the company's owners, due to the type of company Bardav is) that you now find yourself in a dispute with.

      This has nothing to do with the company managing Snopes, they co-o

    • How in the world does it help to OWN your DNS yourself and then your company's two major shareholders get into a dispute with one another?

      The fact of the matter is that for very small companies with >1 people, the "you" in YOURSELF is not an entity with temporal continuity. So doing it YOURSELF doesn't much help you when "you" shatters into two non-reconcilable halves :-(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:42PM (#54869169)

    First, snopes.com is registered with networksolutions.com, not their hosting provider (Peer 1). It's not clear here that there's anything stopping Mikkelson et al from grabbing a backup (or even live version) of the site, getting set up on a new web host, and then switching the IP, like many others who have had a hosting provider suddenly go crap on them. Snopes appears to run on Wordpress, and, well, it's really not that hard to yank a Wordpress site from one provider and get it up on another.

    Second, they're looking for $500k. $500k? Because of problems at their web host?

    And... if they're not migrating to a new web host, won't most of the $500k being donated go back to the web host that is ostensibly holding their data hostage, rewarding that web host for being jerks?

    This really doesn't make sense.

  • by StreamingEagle ( 1571901 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:43PM (#54869179)
    Do the owners of Snopes.com own and control the snopes.com domain name? If so, move the site, and redirect the DNS to point to your own servers. Do the owners of Snopes.com have a copy of the site? It's their copyrighted code and content. A vendor can't "hold it hostage", or even hold it at all without explicit rights to do so. If the vendor doesn't have a valid contract (i.e.; if the contract expired or was legally terminated), hosting Snopes.com without permission is a copyright violation... which is a very expensive problem for that vendor. Any number of lawyers would take this case on a contingent fee basis... no up-front money needed... if it's such a clear cut case of a vendor having no rights to host snopes.com, but refusing to give snopes.com access to their code and content, or to their domain or DNS. Some details are clearly missing here... or the owners of snopes.com are technically and legally illiterate.
    • by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

      The rest of the story [poynter.org] is well worth a read. This is a shareholder dispute. One shareholder is trying to take over the company from its other, 50/50 owners. The gofundme appears to be making wild claims about what is happening. Its been widely reported that Mikkelson (an original 50% owner) has been treating the company like his personal piggy bank in various prior legal actions. To put his dispute with his prior cofounder to bed, she sold 50% interest to this new group of owners and then appears to have go

    • It's actually a dispute between legal owners, a result from split in co-ownership after a messy divorce. Further details are provided in comments above this.

      From what I can see, the "save snopes" summary is being deliberately misleading, as they talk about the company "contracted to provide services", etc. No, they were sold an interest in the company. And frankly, that sort of dishonesty is highly disturbing when coming from the head of a fact-checking site.

      It's the exact opposite from a clear-cut case.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by weeboo0104 ( 644849 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:45PM (#54869201) Journal

    Domain registrar is Network Solutions. Contact support, take control the domain after confirming ownership and copy the site to another vendor or host and change DNS. I had a small business admin contact pass away once and I KNOW Network Solutions will work with you to get control back to the appropriate party.

    They can't manage their domain, but we're supposed to believe that if we send them $10 they can manage that?


    • by Tyr07 ( 2300912 )

      It sounds like they don't have access to the resources of the site. E.G original files etc. When they said they can't edit or develop the site it looks like with the contract the web development was a part of it (This is purely a guess to how this problem could exist).

      It's also possible the vendor holds the relationship with network solutions, one of those let me do it all for you scenarios that, well lets face it, lots of people don't want to put in the effort of maintaining dns servers or records etc and

      • Then how did they setup this page if they had their access cutoff: http://www.snopes.com/save-snopes/ [snopes.com] ???

        I have a feeling this "fact checking" website isn't telling us all the facts.

        • by Ionized ( 170001 )

          from the fucking summary: "Although we maintain editorial control..." which one could interpret to mean 'we still have CMS access but not file access'

          • Except they run WordPress and so, given "editorial access" they can install Duplicator plugin and clone the site elsewhere trivially.

            WordPress may be a steaming pile of excrement, but at least it's easy to move from host to host.

            If they don't have Administrator access, well, they're just fucking stupid.

        • It's right there in the summary:

          Although we maintain editorial control (for now)

          They are limited in their control of the site, but adding pages (apparently with redirects) is still something they can do.

  • As companies move to the cloud, expect more of the same. Sure, you can have the data but we own the url and the app. Or sure we'll give you the app code but exporting all the data into something convertible to a new cloud dbs provider is going to be expensive.

    In other worlds, same old same old. Vendor-lockin isn't a new concept any more than fake news is (National Enquirer)
  • Always another side (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pascoea ( 968200 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:55PM (#54869291)
    Tech Crunch has some more info [techcrunch.com]

    In August of 2015, Snopes entered a revenue-share/content and ad management agreement with a company called Proper Media, formed earlier that very year. In early 2016, Proper arranged to buy Barbara’s [Estranged wife of the owner] share of Bardav [the company they two started, owner of Snopes], replacing her as co-owner of the company.

    • by mhkohne ( 3854 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @04:06PM (#54869373) Homepage

      Ahh, so they half-own the thing and they're trying to cut the other owner out. NOW it makes sense.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

        You got it backward, the person who put up the gofundme is trying to cut Proper Media out. See their complaint. [poynter.org]

      • Actually the owners of PM own slightly less than half of it, 5/12 to the Snopes 7/12 (ish), since 1 of the people that held part of the divorcing member's shares went from PM to Snopes.

    • Thank you for the link.

      The story (as told by Snopes) just didn't add up and, ironically, needed a third party to help explain what was going on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, Snopes is failing pretty badly at presenting the facts of this story.

      Snopes was founded by David and Barbara Mikkelson, and ownership formalized in 2003 as Bardav Inc.

      In 2014 the two began divorce proceedings

      In August of 2015, Snopes entered a revenue-sharing, content and ad management agreement with a company called Proper Media, formed earlier that same year.

      In early 2016, Proper Media bought Barbara’s share of Bardav, making them a co-owner of the company (and therefore a co-owner of Snopes)


  • Write a crawler and archive all the publicly available pages of that site. Ignore robots.txt.

    Then help snopes.com to rebuild the site with them holding the full ownership.

  • Before you donate... (Score:5, Informative)

    by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @04:08PM (#54869393)

    It's worth understanding that there are, as always, two sides to the story. You can get a sense of the side of the "vendor" (otherwise known as 50% shareholder) by reading this [poynter.org].

    • by KWTm ( 808824 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @05:12PM (#54869897) Journal

      That link [poynter.org], is a complaint from Proper Media to the courts, saying that:

      - at first, Snopes.com was owned by David and Barbara Mikkelson
      - the two divorced, and Barbara held on to her 50% of the company
      - then she effectively sold her 50% to Proper Media, a company
      - but technically she couldn't do that, because Snopes.com had to be owned only by people, not by companies
      - so, she sold it to 5 people who owned/ran/were Proper Media company. These 5 people pinky-promised that it would be just like Proper Media itself held the shares.
      - so then, it was 50% David Mikkelson, 50% Proper Media
      - but then one of the Proper Media people by the name of Green conspired with / got seduced by David Mikkelson, and went over to the dark side! (cue dramatic music)
      - now, with David's 50% plus a little bit more from Green who quit Proper Media and is now in David's employ, David controls more than 50%!
      - that's not fair!! Green *promised* that he was holding the shares for Proper Media!

      Personally, I'm not sure that Proper Media has a case. If there was a legal requirement that shares couldn't be sold to a company, only people, then there was a reason for this, exactly so that individuals could make decisions and not have to act like a coordinated legal entity. If Proper Media says that Green "should have" done such and such ... well, that's going to be hard to argue. So, legally, I think David Mikkelson has better standing.

  • Divorce Fallout (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Fallout from Barbara and David Mikkelson's divorce (the Bardav company) - Proper Media who bought Barbara Mikkelson's 50% share vs David Mikkelson's other 50%. Proper Media alleges David misused funds from Snopes to pay for the divorce and honeymoon with new wife/Snopes employee Elyssa Young. Proper media also claims one of its shareholders - Vincent Green - secretly conspired to help David get control of Snopes. David says he terminated Proper Media's contract fair and square.

    So basically...sounds like

  • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @04:30PM (#54869589)

    Did I miss some big news? When did snopes go back to being a fact checking site?

  • They have an article [snopes.com] debunking the myth that Marilyn Monroe had six toes. As part of the evidence against this, they wrote:

    One doesn’t simply get up and start trotting around after having a toe removed — the missing digit affects one’s balance, and it takes some time to adjust to the change and “relearn” how to walk.

    The problem is that isn't true. My wife is a podiatrist who amputates toes routinely as part of her job. I discussed this with her and she said that the whole "relearning to walk" thing is in itself a myth, and that even people who have their big toes removed generally do just fine in no time. Try it yourself: walk across the floor with your big toe pulled upward so it doesn't hit the ground. Easy, right? And that's the big toe; a vestigial extra-pinky toe hanging off the side would contribute almost nothing to balance or your gait.

    I wrote them with this information. They replied, quite defensively, that I was wrong and that she did not have six toes. Uh, yeah, I totally agree! I still think they should have removed the invalid evidence that contradicts expert testimony. If you're proving that "1 + 1 = 2 because cats have wings", and I tell you cats don't actually have wings, it doesn't invalidate your premise but it does suggest that you'd want to update your proof.

  • any back doors with doing SQL injection on http://message.snopes.com/ [snopes.com]?

  • I just use Adblock and no one gets the ad revenue.
  • This Slashdot discussion now seems to be plumbing the depths of the Devil's rectum to argue Clinton versus Trump.

    WTF? What is wrong with you people?

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