The past four years have been a difficult time for Snopes. We have been fighting an epic court battle for the future of Snopes and our fact-checking team.
The owners of a company that once provided services to Snopes think they can bully us into doing business with them, and they have used the courts as a weapon. They have filed many lawsuits against us, and we have been forced to countersue them to defend our position and maintain the independence of Snopes.
The good news is that we have won on ruling after ruling – but it will take time before we are 100% done with this complex case.
Having exhausted most of their options, one of these plaintiffs – unbelievably – is trying to relitigate what has already been decided by our state Superior Court judges.
On Sept. 25, 2020, the plaintiff filed a new lawsuit – this one in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit again attempts to block Snopes from advancing legal fees for Snopes CEO and Board Chair David Mikkelson and other Snopes team members.
You heard right – this is the same issue that the state court already rejected. Now, our lawyers must address these tired claims again, at more expense to Snopes.
Is this an abuse of our court system by bullies? You bet. Will it stop us? Absolutely not.
We are asking the federal judge to immediately dismiss this lawsuit. Our response was filed on Dec. 16, 2020. A key point is that this issue has already been decided. Like many states, California has an “anti-SLAPP” law intended to protect free speech and stop frivolous lawsuits. On Aug. 22, 2019, the state court granted Snopes’ anti-SLAPP motion and struck the plaintiffs’ claims seeking to block Snopes from advancing legal fees to its company agents, including Mikkelson and others.
It is an unfortunate reality that bullies can use our courts to drain defendants’ resources – and that’s exactly what has been happening to Snopes. The COVID-19 pandemic has further impacted court operations, meaning our cases are moving even more slowly through the system.
Why Snopes Is Being Targeted
We are often asked about what is motivating these plaintiffs.
They have sued us again and again. They have also tried, repeatedly, to block us from defending ourselves. While Snopes has been victorious in every meaningful court decision, the new federal lawsuit demonstrates that these litigants will stop at nothing.
So, what’s driving them? Simply put: money.
The truth is that we lawfully canceled a very lucrative web development and advertising management contract with their company back in 2017. Since then, they have tried, unsuccessfully, to force the dissolution of Snopes and compel Snopes to do business with their company, Proper Media.
You may remember that for several months in 2017, these people had possession of our website, email accounts and advertising revenue. They refused Snopes’ demands to relinquish that control until we sued them and obtained a court order forcing them to comply. That was a dark time for Snopes.
We were relieved to get back the Snopes website and email accounts, but unfortunately this wasn’t the end.
Lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit followed. They tried to remove Snopes founder Mikkelson from the Board of Directors. They tried to force Snopes to continue contracting with their company. They failed on each attempt.
The Threat from Within
Here’s where it gets even more complicated. In the interest of transparency, we want to explain a bit more about this lawsuit battle.
It’s kind of like a horror movie where “the calls are coming from inside the house.” That is because, frighteningly, some of the owners of this vendor company acquired shares of Snopes. That’s right – they hold shares and sit on the Snopes Board of Directors at the same time they are filing lawsuits against Snopes.
Is this a conflict? We think so.
Indeed, the state court determined that these plaintiffs have “overtly hostile interests” to Snopes. This case is a conflict between one side who wants to do the best for Snopes, and another side who apparently wants to force Snopes to do what is best for a separate company, Proper Media.
As we have described in court documents, our position is that they did not acquire their shares legitimately and are not rightful members of the Board of Directors. We have strong reasons to believe they purchased shares with some of Snopes’ own advertising funds. But we must contend with this threat from within – at least for now.
These hostile shareholders are in a minority position, meaning they cannot unilaterally dictate what happens in our day-to-day operations – but they have used their access and standing as shareholders to inflict more pain on Snopes in these lawsuits.
This is a lot of information, but we hope it helps explain why the litigation is taking a while to resolve.
The Cost to Snopes
The cost of our legal defense and offense is mounting – draining as much as 12-30% of our revenue in a given month. That’s significantly more than the profit margins of most media outlets. Truthfully, we came close to losing everything we have built over a quarter-century – and without your support, we would have.
Make no mistake – this marathon of legal filings is, and continues to be, an attack on the independence of Snopes. We are in a fight to survive, and we will not back down as long as you believe in us. We have prevailed again and again, with the help of legal counsel.
We will be vindicated.
How you can help:
Support our GoFundMe. This allows us to continue to fight those seeking to encumber our operations, and even trample our constitutional rights.
Defend Snopes with a recurring contribution. Your ongoing support can help sustain us through our ongoing battles.
Become a Founding Member. Join us as a member and get access to digital perks.
Court battles take time and money, and they’re not over until they’re over. Thanks to you, we have lived to see another day. And we will keep fighting.
We refuse to be silenced by the bullies.