Facebook announced that they are going to be using a number of organizations to determine which news sources are ‘fake news’ that are reported, or that Facebook staff think may not be genuine, and decide whether they should be marked as ‘disputed’.
One of those sites is Snopes.com who, thanks to an exclusive by Alana Goodman, Daily Mail, we now know that Snopes not only peddles propaganda, it is a sleazy outfit, run by an embezzler, a former hooker/porn star, and a dominatrix.
Goodman points out that Snopes.com will benefit from Facebook using the site as an arbiter of truth by determining what’s “fake news.” The site is involved in a bitter legal dispute between its co-founders, with its CEO accused of using company money for prostitutes.
But the website’s own troubles and the intriguing choice of who carries out its ‘fact checks’ are revealed by DailyMail.com, as one of its main contributors is disclosed to be a former sex-blogger who called herself ‘Vice Vixen’.
Husband and wife: David Mikkelson is now married to Snopes.com staff member Elyssa Young – but also engaged in a bitter legal battle with his former wife Barbara with whom he set up the site
Wedding: Elyssa Young – who maintains a website offering her services as an escort – and Davik Mikkelson married in November. The wedding party included two other Snopes.com workers
Arbiter: Facebook announced that Snopes.com was one of the organizations to which it would turn for ‘fact-checking’ when questions are raised over the veracity of news stories
The others include ABC News, the Associated Press and ‘fact-checking’ websites including Politifact.com.
Now a DailyMail.com investigation reveals that Snopes.com’s founders, former husband and wife David and Barbara Mikkelson, are embroiled in a lengthy and bitter legal dispute in the wake of their divorce.
He has since remarried, to a former escort and porn actress who is one of the site’s staff members.
They are accusing each other of financial impropriety, with Barbara claiming her ex-husband is guilty of ’embezzlement’ and suggesting he is attempting a ‘boondoggle’ to change tax arrangements, while David claims she took millions from their joint accounts and bought property in Las Vegas.
The Mikkelsons founded the site in 1995. The couple had met in the early 1990s on a folklore-themed online message board, and married before setting up the site.
Profiles of the website disclose that for some time before it was set up, the couple had posed as ‘The San Fernardo Valley Folklore Society’, using its name on letterheads, even though it did not exist.
A profile for the Webby Awards published in October describes it as ‘an entity dreamed up to help make the inquiries seem more legit’.
David Mikkeleson told the Los Angeles Times in 1997: ‘When I sent letters out to companies, I found I got a much better response with an official-looking organization’s stationery.’
In 2015, their marriage ended in divorce – but a bitter legal dispute continues.
Both stayed on as co-owners of Snopes – which is registered under its legal name of Bardav, Inc. and were its sole board members.
Staff member: Elyssa Young is also know as Erin O’Bryn and maintains a website adveritising her services as an escort with photographs of her over the years
Political: Elyssa Young, under her other name Eryn O’Bryn, keeps her escort website running. An online review of her services was posted in March 2015
Adult model: Elyssa Young was a model for adult magazines in the 1990s, and appears to have continued posing for photographs until recently. She is now an administrative worker at Snopes.com and travels with her husband David Mikkelson, its co-founder.
Active: The most recent review online of Elyssa Young’s services was posted in March 2015
Legal filings seen by DailyMail.com detail a lengthy financial and corporate dispute which stretches long after their divorce, and which one lawyer describes as ‘contentious’ in court documents.
In the filings, Barbara, 57, has accused her former husband, 56, of ‘raiding the corporate business Bardav bank account for his personal use and attorney fees’ without consulting her.
She also claimed he embezzled $98,000 from the company over the course of four years ‘which he expended upon himself and the prostitutes he hired’.
When contacted by the Dailymail.com, David said he was legally prohibited from discussing his ex-wife’s allegations.
‘I’d love to respond, but unfortunately the terms of a binding settlement agreement preclude me from publicly discussing the details of our divorce,’ he said. Barbara Mikkelson said: ‘No comment.’
In court records, Barbara alleged that her ex-husband removed thousands from their business accounts between April and June of 2016 to pay for trips for him and his ‘girlfriend’.
She claimed he spent nearly $10,000 on a 24-day ‘personal vacation’ in India this year and expensed his girlfriend’s plane ticket to Buenos Aires.
‘He’s been depleting the corporate account by spending monies from it on his personal expenses,’ said Barbara in a filing last June.
First wife: Lawyers in court documents described Barbara Mikkelson’s split from David, with whom she co-founded the Snopes.com website, as contentious.
She added that he needed to be suspended from using the company checkbook and debit card ‘right away before there are no funds left in the corporate account’.
David and his attorneys countered that the India visit was a legitimate business trip, and that he only expensed a fraction – 22.5 per cent – of the total cost of the excursion.
He said he was considering setting up a fact-checking website in India, and wanted to get a sense of the culture. He also said he went to Buenos Aires to attend an international fact-checking conference.
Meanwhile, his attorneys blasted Barbara as ‘a “loose cannon” who simply must have her way’.
One major point of contention was David’s 2016 salary – which Barbara was responsible for approving.
David wanted his salary raised from $240,000 to $360,000 – arguing that this would still put him below the ‘industry standards’ and that he should be paid up to $720,000 a year.
‘As I said, based on industry standards and our revenues, my salary should be about 2x to 3x what it is now,’ he wrote in an email to Barbara in April 2016. ‘I’ll settle for $360K with the understanding that it’s to be retroactive to the start of the year.’
Barbara responded that his request was ‘not even in the galaxy of reasonable’.
So bitter was the dispute, that they even fell out over the arbiter they had appointed to settle disputes, meaning that Facebook’s arbiter cannot even agree on its own arbiter.
The court papers also detail the substantial financial rewards ‘fact-checking’ brought the former couple – and how they have even fallen out over remuneration.
The divorce settlement stipulated that David Mikkelson receive a salary of $240,000 a year in 2015, while both of the former couple were due to receive $20,000 a month as a draw against profits, as well as a share of any net profit the company made after those payments.
The settlement also noted: ‘Each party waives his or her claim upon Bardav’s revenues received by Husband into his PayPal account and spent by him, accountant’s fees for restating tax returns to reflect previously unreported income…’
The nature of those revenues and fees, and of the unreported income is not disclosed.
The settlement saw savings, IRAS and stockholdings of well over $1.5 million given to Barbara, while she renounced claim on their marital home in Calabasas, California, in return for a payment of $660,000.
David kept their joint baseball card collection, a savings account with $1.59 million balance, and other savings worth more than $300,000. They also agreed to split the company checking account’s $240,000 balance at the end of 2015 after his salary had been paid and a $50,000 float left.
Accusation: The claim of embezzlement was made in court documents seen by DailyMail.com
Contentious exchange: Barbara Mikkelson suggested a plan to relocate Snopes.com might be a ‘boondoggle’ and David demanded a $360,000 annual salary
The arbiter needs an arbiter: How details of spending were described by Barbara Mikkelson’s legal team
They later increased the $20,000 monthly payment to $30,000.
That has not ended the difficulty however; court documents show that a decision on David’s salary for 2016 became bogged down in legal argument when Barbara refered it to an arbiter, and the appointment of the arbiter became itself a matter of dispute.
Snopes.com will be asked by Facebook to be an arbiter on the veracity of news.
Attorneys for the former husband and wife also conducted a lengthy exchange on what was actually true about the actions of the former couple.
In correspondence his side disputes her right to ‘decide what is and is not a legitimate business expense’, while her side accused of him of making false claims about the appointment of the arbiter.
In the time since the couple split, David has run the company’s day-to-day operations, and authored a number of ‘fact checks’.
He has also made hires – including Elyssa Young, 47, an administrative assistant at Snopes.