Fact-checking operation Snopes has launched a crowdfunding campaign ahead of 2020, likely to be a bumper year for online misinformation due to the US presidential election.
Snopes launched in 1994 and has funded its work through advertising and the occasional partnership. But the company says demands on its services are greater than ever, and attempts to work with social media giants have failed. Earlier this year the company walked away from a funded partnership with Facebook following reports that the Silicon Valley giant was forcing unfair and opaque working condition onto its partners.
“Facebook has more people on their PR staff than there are formal fact checkers in the world”
In an interview with TechCrunch, Snopes’ vice president of operations Vinny Green said the fact-checking efforts of big tech amount to little more than “credibility theater,” and the site decided that if it wants to make a difference to online misinformation, it needs to do so under its own terms.
“The fact that Facebook has more people on their PR staff than there are formal fact checkers in the world demonstrates the disproportionality of the situation,” Green told TechCrunch. “Apple News and Google News don’t have the mission or the mandate to ensure we have a healthy discourse online. Someone has to step up who has an interest in making sure the content flowing through the pipes is credible and reliable — so we’re stepping up. But our only access to capital and reach is what we grow ourselves.”
Supporters can fund the site through a number of paid tiers. A $30, one-year “founding membership” includes perks like ad-free browsing and a members-only newsletter, with higher tiers (up to $250) offering swag including tote bags, T-shirts, and power banks.
As well as funding Snopes’ 10 full-time staff, the company wants to use the new funds to create fact-checking tools and initiatives. It wants to conduct more original investigations like a traditional newsroom, create a browser extension that lets users quickly check stories, and launch its own news aggregator (which is due to appear in Spring next year).
“2020 is going to be bonkers in terms of debunking this information, but the business model isn’t going to get better,” Green told TechCrunch. “There will be increased traffic and it’ll be bigger in traditional metrics, but I think there will also be an appetite for a venue online where you can consume information without vitriol or spin.”