The billionaire founder of eBay is to donate $100 million to fund investigative journalism and to combat the spread of misinformation online.
Pierre Omidyar, one of the world’s richest men, aims to tackle the “global trust deficit” by giving money to projects around the world.
The funds will be dispersed over the next three years through the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm which he and his wife founded in 2004 and which has committed more than $1 billion to good causes.
The first recipients include the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the group behind last year’s release of the Panama Papers, which will receive $4.5 million.
The Anti-Defamation League will also receive a grant towards the building of a new centre in Silicon Valley to fight the growing threat posed by online trolls.
“What we’ve seen over the last 12 months particularly has been an increase in distrust - distrust in government institutions, in the media and in social media,” said Stephen King, partner at Omidyar Network.
“This new commitment is to provide funding for organisations that are trying to restore trust.
“The $100 million will be dedicated to supporting independent media, tackling misinformation and hate speech, and looking at ways in which technology can help repair relationships between citizens and government.”
Public faith in institutions is at an all-time low, Mr King said, and “alternative facts” - a term used by Kellyanne Conway, aide to US President Donald Trump - are gaining traction.
“Rumour has become the new currency and people are much more focused on believing what their peers say, and what their own political beliefs are telling them.
"We’re trying to expose people as much as possible to a variety of different ways of accessing information and checking sources,” he said.
The money will be distributed principally outside the US, with a focus on countries where free speech is under threat. “We take it for granted sometimes in the UK and in the US, but in many countries around the world you don’t have that tradition of impartial, independent media that isn’t state-run or captured by corporate interests.”
Details of the new fund will be announced at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford today.
Omidyar launched his auction website in 1995. Three years later, when he was 31, the company went public and he became a billionaire.
The site inspired his philanthropic work by demonstrating that “people are basically good”, he has said - users buy and sell goods while taking one another on trust.
Omidyar lives a private existence in Hawaii, and in a rare interview in 2010 explained his attitude to money. “We sort of skipped the ‘regular rich’ and we went straight to ‘ridiculous rich’,” he said of his overnight fortune.
“I had the notion that, okay, so now we have all of this wealth, we could buy not only one expensive car, we could buy all of them. As soon as you realise that you could buy all of them, none of them are particularly interesting or satisfying.”