INTERNET RUMOUR mill clearing-house Snopes.com is in danger of becoming not-a-thing as legal bills could leave it unable to continue, despite being in the top 2000 internet destinations worldwide.
Just as fake news, fact-checking and rumour mills become part of everyday life, Snopes, which has quietly been confirming and debunking facts like "Chuck Norris is really dead" and "Amazon stops you ordering 1984" since 1995 has been hit by a legal dispute which could bankrupt it.
But it's not about an ascertain it has made. Oh no. It's about who owns the whole ruddy thing. In fact, the whole story is starting to sound like David Thewlis's attitude to car lot management (non-Fargo watchers, that'll mean nothing)
Now, the editorial team has had to turn to readers, Popbitch style, for help with its legal bills.
The post on GoFundMe explains: "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."
This is surprisingly uncommon. Holding the hosting privileges of a website hostage happens more often than you'd expect when there is a dispute and there's very little that a company can do if there is any entitlement there whatsoever - it usually ends in a bloody legal mess.
Since the campaign began, the team has raised $435,000, but its adversaries have hit back with "misinformation" (their words) over what is really going on.
The issue seems to surround the divorce of the Mikkelson partners who originally founded Snopes. It seems Mrs Mikkleson sold her half of the company to Proper Media, who run the successful TV Tropes site.
Mr Mikkleson remained a shareholder, but there was talk of holding companies, offshore companies and other financial mismanagement levelled at both sides, whilst Proper Media claim to have saved Snopes from being a site that when it arrived didn't even have a Content Management System (CMS - the thing that we use to make all the pages on the site look the same).
Things will come to a head next Friday in a San Diego courtroom. Proper Media will attempt to oust Mikkelson. Mikkelson will attempt to take control of his company.
Meanwhile, the site is being kept running on the GoFundMe donations, which would give it about 4 months to live. Who is funding the legals we'll doubtless find out in due course.
Whatever happens, there's a risk that, without an amiable settlement, we could see the end of Snopes and TV Tropes at a stroke. TV Tropes is a fun little website to get lost in. But Snopes is important, now more than ever, and losing it would mean losing one of the most important fact-checking weapons that internet users have at a time when facts are needed most. µ
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