Save Snopes: Fake News Fact Checker Asks for Money From Readers as Legal Battle Looms

Clinton Trump puppets
Puppets in the likeness of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, September 26, 2016. The fact checking website Snopes was prominent in the election campaign, but now it needs readers' help. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The factchecking website Snopes—a veteran fighter in the battle against fake news—has turned to readers for help as an advertising dispute threatens to force its closure.

In a statement posted to the site Monday, the site team said that Snopes' contract had ended with an outside company that had provided the site with “certain services,” but the company was refusing to relinquish the hosting of the site, leaving Snopes unable to place advertising and thus cut off from its previous revenue stream.

“For the first time in our history, we are turning to you, our readership, for help,” the statement said.

“As misinformation has increasingly threatened democracies around the world (including our own), has stood in the forefront of fighting for truth and dispelling misinformation online,” it continued.

“It is vital that these efforts continue, so we are asking the community to donate what they can.”

The site is part of a complex legal battle involving different owners of parts of the founding company and investors. On Friday a hearing is due in San Diego to consider competing motions and may result in control of the site changing hands, according to The Atlantic.

Snopes has been active since 1994, originally as a site fact-checking urban legends and online folklore. But it has since expanded into politics, and it attained prominence during the election campaign, when concerns grew about the number of falsehoods told by then-candidate Donald Trump.

The site has also published unflinching analysis of false claims by Trump’s opponents. In an article published earlier this month, it said: “In a feverish atmosphere of claim and counterclaim, when everyone seems to reflexively accuse everyone else of ‘fake news,’ it can be difficult to know what’s what.”

Snopes is also one of the organizations that has agreed to provide fact-checking services to Facebook, as part of the social network’s new policy of flagging to users stories whose credibility is “disputed.”

Messages of support swept social media on Monday night. Sleeping Giants, a campaign against racism in the media, tweeted: “This sucks. If there's ever been a need for @snopes fact checking, it's now. Please support them as they try to solve this issue.”

The Washington Post’s fact checker columnist Glenn Kessler wrote: “@snopes was one of the original fact checkers on the Internet. It needs your help.”