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EBay founder pledges $100M to counter 'fake news'

By Allen Cone
EBay founder pledges $100M to counter 'fake news'
Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, has pledged $100 million over three years to fight "fake news" with investigative journalism. Photo courtesy Pierre Omidyar/Flickr

April 5 (UPI) -- The billionaire founder of eBay has pledged $100 million over three years to fight "fake news" with investigative journalism.

Pierre Omidyar, through his philanthropic investment firm, Omidyar Network, will donate money to several organizations around the world, according to an announcement Tuesday at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, Britain.

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The funding "will focus on strengthening independent media and investigative journalism, tackling misinformation and hate speech, and enabling citizens to better engage with government on critical issues," the foundation said in a release Wednesday.

Omidyar, 49, is French-born Iranian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist, who founded the eBay auction site with Jeff Skoll in 1995 in San Jose, Calif.

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The first recipient is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which will receive up to $4.5 million over three years. The 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries report on global issues that include cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power.

Last year, ICIJ uncovered the Panama Papers of top officials who allegedly hid wealth with secret offshore companies.

"At a time when autocrats, demagogues, criminals, dodgy businessmen and other shady characters are seeking to enrich and empower themselves at the expense of society, it is more important than ever that journalists can remain the world's independent eyes and ears, and root out corruption and wrongdoing," Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, said in the release. "But more and more this kind of vital work is only possible in the nonprofit sector."

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The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, will receive seed money to build a command center in Silicon Valley, Caliif., to combat the growing threat posed by hate online.

Funding also will go to Alianza Latinoamericana para la Tecnología Cívica, a project to promote civic technology platforms, accountability and transparency in Latin America.

The foundation noted that several events have "eroded the public's trust in institutions, experts and the media" -- Britain's debate on leaving the European Union, known as Brexit, as well as the impeachment of Brazil's President Rousseff, the U.S. presidential election and ongoing corruption globally.

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The foundation had committed $220 million over the last decade through its Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative to drive accountability and transparency of government.

In January, Facebook announced it was making changes to the algorithm it uses to display "trending" topics, in an effort to crack down on fake news stories on the site. The News Feed now includes a publisher's headline to add context, an "improved system" of determining most popular stories with established publishes and no longer personalizing the feed.

The funding comes as media outlets, include newspapers, have cut back newsroom staff. The newspaper division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which is run by billionaire Warren Buffett, announced Monday is eliminating 289 jobs among its 31 newspapers.

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