If you haven't visited Pierre Omidyar's Twitter feed lately, take a look. The eBay founder and veteran philanthropist has been posting multiple times a day, expressing nonstop outrage about the Trump phenomenon. In fact, it's hard to think of another billionaire who's more active in publicly criticizing the new president and his enablers in politics, business and the media.
Among the many things that distresses Omidyar about what's happened to America's politics is the rise of online trolling by a hate-filled populist right. Of course, this problem—what the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has dubbed “cyberhate”—didn't come out of nowhere and it's not confined to Trumpists. It's exploded with the rise of social media. And despite official policies to remove the vilest content and curb outright harassment, digital media platforms navigate a tricky path between ensuring free speech and protecting users.
This is all context for the news that the Omidyar Network is providing seed funding for an ADL center in Silicon Valley that will help digital companies find ways to fight online hate. It’ll be helmed by Brittan Heller, a civil rights lawyer who will serve as ADL’s first director of technology and society. In an interview with the New York Times, Heller notes the risks of her new job: “Within minutes of ADL announcing this position, I opened up my Twitter feed and I found hateful symbols [and] people discussing my death.”
Heller’s task won't be easy. According to the ADL, the “command center” will “monitor, track, analyze and mitigate hate speech and harassment across the internet,” a tall order indeed. But it will build on ADL’s long track record of monitoring online hate, finding strategies to share with policymakers and the private sector. It’ll help that the key tech firms are located just next door, so long as they listen.
Not long after Trump's election, in an article titled "The Billionaires vs. Donald J. Trump," we predicted that Pierre Omidyar would be among the deep-pocketed donors standing up to the new president. That's turned out to be even more accurate than we thought, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in Omidyar's grantmaking and investments. As we noted in our article, Omidyar has never been easy to pigeonhole ideologically, but he is deeply committed to the open flow of information and ideas, as well as citizen engagement and strong governance.
In addition to discouraging hateful content, the Omidyar Network is an active backer of journalism, recently gifting $2.1 million to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Separately, Pierre Omidyar created First Look Media, an organization dedicated to protecting the freedoms of the First Amendment. Of that venture, Omidyar said, “Our nation is stronger when we protect the rights of individuals to speak their minds, associate with whomever they please, and criticize their government and others in power.”
That basic point now feels more timely than ever.
While we're on the topic of philanthropists fighting hate, it's worth recalling that George Soros’s Open Society Foundations established a $10 million rapid-response initiative not long after the election to combat hateful rhetoric, as we reported at the time. That effort has now developed into Communities Against Hate, a database of hate-fueled incidents that draws together partner organizations to respond.