The Unknown Oligarch

Why isn’t anyone looking into Pierre Omidyar’s empire of influence?

In 2013, the world was rocked by reports shared by Edward Snowden. An intelligence consultant by trade, Snowden revealed the existence of secret, wide-ranging information-gathering programs conducted by the US National Security Agency. Such revelations were published by a journalist at The Guardian by the name of Glenn Greenwald, who had direct access to Snowden. Greenwald’s articles were read by millions.

One of those was a man named Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar was a technologist and entrepreneur. More specifically, he was the billionaire founder of one of the most successful companies of the dot-com era: eBay. Having made the bulk of his wealth in the 1990s, Omidyar was already established in the philanthropic world by the time he had read about Snowden’s revelations. He had already made public in 2001 his intention to give away the vast majority of his wealth during his lifetime, which he then formalised by joining Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge in 2010.

Omidyar had already dipped his toes into journalism too, initially funding a newspaper in Hawaii where he lives (albeit in a remote estate where he reportedly keeps his private jet and a small security force). But he was now about to take it up a notch. In early 2014, he launched The Intercept, bringing Glenn Greenwald – and his explosive Snowden reporting – along with him. The offer was irresistible, as Greenwald and others were enticed by salaries that most media outlets simply could not match (not even The Guardian during the years of editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger’s infamous financial profligacy).

The Intercept never made any serious money, however. It was never a commercial venture, but rather a testament to Pierre Omidyar’s self-proclaimed commitment to independent journalism and his need to cast disinfectant light upon what he saw as the world’s problems.

The online paper wasn’t the only place Omidyar was putting his money to work. Already back in 2004, the billionaire started a philanthropic foundation called the Omidyar Network. At its inception, the network focused on tapping into popular charitable trends. Many of its early grants were framed as “impact investments,” including into then-fashionable areas such as microfinance. There was an emphasis on helping poor people – particularly those in poor countries in Africa and Asia – “help themselves.” Some of this ethos still informs at least part of what the Omidyar Network still funds.

Yet Edward Snowden’s revelations did seem to profoundly affect Omidyar, and impressed upon him a revulsion towards government spying – even when conducted under a Democrat administration. Commenting on how quickly he seemed to have embraced a full-throated critique of the American surveillance state – as someone who had already been a fixture of high society’s philanthropic scene – in late 2014 Omidyar was quaintly described in New York Magazine as a man who by day was an ally of “some of Obama’s most uncivil opponents,” i.e. those self-described anti-imperialists to the left of Obama, but by night “on collegial terms with the Clintons” and “a partner in their charity work.”

As the years 2015 and – above all – 2016 came and went, the tenor of the globalist regime underwent a wholesome change. Many have described this as the infamous ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’. And Pierre Omidyar was by no means immune to this. In October of last year, Glenn Greenwald described how his now-former benefactor became increasingly radicalised, turning into an anti-Trump obsessive. Formerly a critic of what he perceived to be the overreach of the security state, the billionaire suddenly became an ardent Russiagater, lapping up accusations made by figures in that same apparatus.

Despite Greenwald giving credit to Omidyar for not firing him even when their views became widely divergent, the journalist still recalls how The Intercept became increasingly staffed by editorial hires from places like the New York Times, which made continuing his work there impossible, and would eventually lead to his resignation (in October 2020). His comments about Omidyar’s radicalisation are intriguing, not least because they coincide with a complete reboot of Omidyar’s philanthropic activities. This would amount to a vast funnelling of money into exactly those causes that the globalist occupational class has never stopped screaming about since 2016: fighting fake news, dark data, evil algorithms, bots, white supremacy, climate lies, populism, and so on.

In April 2017, the Omidyar Network announced that it would contribute $100 million over three years to “support investigative journalism, fight misinformation and counteract hate speech around the world.” An Omidyar spokesman described it as “the largest-ever contribution” of its kind. Headline grants to the tune of millions of dollars were made to coincide with the announcement.

$4.5 million went to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which has always access to big financial leaks – like the Panama Papers – from forever unnamed sources. $2.7 million went to an “anti-corruption” group in Latin America. A similar sum was committed to the Anti-Defamation League, specifically to help them build “a state-of-the-art command center” in Silicon Valley to “combat the growing threat posed by online hate”; a key move that helped to define the importance of controlling speech on social media platforms.

The Omidyar Network’s own website is upfront about these changes:

“Our world changed dramatically between 2005 and 2018 – with multiple economic, social, political, and technological changes that fundamentally altered our operating context – these changes became too powerful to ignore. Sharp and rising inequality, worsening white supremacy and “othering”, a planet in crisis, technology’s increasingly pervasive role in our lives, liberal democracy under threat… the list of challenges and ills that surfaced, or were exacerbated, in the 2010s is long.”

In 2018, the Omidyar Network spun out Luminate, which would take on many of the activities described in its big 2017 announcement, no doubt spurred on by Omidyar’s personal radicalisation. This organisation also has its fingerprints absolutely everywhere. Anywhere where the Left is doing something, anywhere in the world, there’s a decent chance that Luminate (if not the main Omidyar Network itself) is somehow involved.

It’s easy to see what Luminate funds. Perhaps most notably a lot of projects in the domain of “data and digital rights.” Some of this work amounts to funding hundreds of NGO activist-bureaucrats who complain that empirical data, and algorithms or other procedures based on that empirical data, is biased against some protected category of people.

To take just one random example: last year Luminate gave $1 million to an organisation called the Digital Freedom Fund, which “supports strategic litigation to advance digital rights in Europe.” The Digital Freedom Fund is itself a grant-making organization which basically supports human rights lawyers. One litigation backed by them, for instance, is trying to challenge how German health services share data with immigration authorities. Another – which I presume will be targeted against some branch of the Slovakian government – alleges that Slovakian gypsies have “unequal access to digital technologies,” and that this is presumably Slovakia’s fault.

These and similar actions also intend to “raise awareness” of issues, providing easy talking points for simple-minded legislators as they create more laws to worsen the lives of their citizens. Relatedly, Luminate also funds lots of NGO activist-bureaucrats who complain about irresponsible news online. One organisation, the Disinformation Index, works to pressure advertisers to stop working with media that serves its users with what it deems to be ‘fake news’. Its co-founder worked in the US intelligence community (‘luminous’ indeed). And these are friends with the people who pen all those robust reports about how dark data algorithms give black people diabetes.

Some of Omidyar’s efforts also involve trying to rejig the very mechanics of electoral politics, most notably in the United States. Omidyar has funnelled substantial sums – via the so-called Democracy Fund, spun out of the Omidyar Network in 2014 – to groups with lofty names like The Center for Public Integrity (something between an NGO and a magazine that campaigns for various leftist causes). The Democracy Fund’s list of grantees is a rabbit hole. You can find projects dedicated to reform of voter laws to help ‘marginalised’ groups (whose ballots always bend one way), get-out-the-vote campaigns to ensure that those same groups do exactly that, and much more.

Nor are Omidyar’s media efforts limited to The Intercept. A glance at Luminate’s funding portfolio shows over 130 grants made to advance the so-called ‘independent media’. Like all of Omidyar’s activities, the spread of organisations and outlets being funded is well and truly global. For instance, Luminate funds a digital newspaper in the English city of Bristol which unquestioningly quotes Antifa organizers and whips up anti-white hatred. It also funds a Philippine media outlet called Rappler – an outlet opposed to Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchly anti-drug, anti-crime policies. Luminate first funded Rappler in 2015, the same year that Duterte launched his (ultimately successful) presidential campaign.

And Omidyar’s interference in countries that sit on global diplomatic fault lines is not just limited to the Philippines either. He has funded various projects that fit squarely with current US foreign policy objectives, from anti-Assad films in Syria to various anti-Russian NGOs in Ukraine. These represent a growing trend, where philanthropist-backed non-state actors link up with western governments in the service of commonly proclaimed foreign policy goals.  

Omidyar’s latest and greatest venture, however, came sometime last year. This was Facebook’s ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen, who argued that the social media platform’s algorithms were pushing its billions of users down dangerous paths. Amongst other things, Haugen accused the tech company of not doing enough to combat anti-vaccine sentiment. She pinned the blame on Facebook for the events of January 6th, accusing them of prematurely changing their 2020 election algorithms that supposedly made it less likely for “harmful or false content” to “go viral.” That woman was on the news agenda everywhere. She spoke to the United States Congress, the EU and UK Parliaments, as well as other places too.

Frances Haugen’s media campaign in Europe was run by Luminate. The Omidyar Network also gave $150,000 to an organisation called Whistleblower Aid, which would later furnish her with legal advice. Her US media campaign was run by Bill Burton, a former Obama spokesman who now works for an NGO called Center for Humane Technology which – you guessed it – also gets funded by Omidyar.

In March of this year, Haugen wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times titled “Civil society must be part of the Digital Services Act,” where she called on the EU to give this so-called ‘civil society’ a role in “combating hate speech and disinformation” in non-Anglophone societies as part of their upcoming legislation in this area. (Facebook does not have enough Hungarian-language censors, you see.) In the article, she also name-checked the NGO Global Witness, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think-tank, and petitions and activist network Avaaz, as being capable of “ringing the alarm bell” in what she described as “emerging conflicts.” All of these groups are funded by Pierre Omidyar.

***

Everything I have listed so far is indicative, not exhaustive, of Omidyar’s empire of influence. Yet very few people seem to be interested in this man’s activities, and the large sums of money that he is willing to lavishly spend towards what are obvious ideological ends.

The Financial Times gives a platform to a woman funded by Omidyar, who then exclusively name-checks organisations that have received his money. Yet the Financial Times doesn’t seem to be interested in Omidyar himself. Their coverage of him has been pretty sparse and puffy for a man worth some $10 billion who has given over three of those billions away over the past 20 years.

Nor is the Financial Times alone in its blissful ignorance. See for example the recently defunct Grubstakers, a podcast run by four socialists in Brooklyn which purported to analyse the lives of influential billionaires with hard-nosed materialist intent. The Grubstakers made 250 episodes together, but a cursory search suggests that they never felt like looking into Pierre Omidyar, and the kinds of things he funds.

I suppose there must be a decent number of people in the journalist-academic-philanthropic memeplex who have a sense of just how great the billionaire’s influence is. I imagine that there is a kind of conspiracy of silence about him because of his very obvious financial clout, which potential recipients of his grants don’t want to compromise. I also imagine most bovine hacks don’t see what the issue is. After all, on the surface he’s just another nice philanthropist spending his money as he sees fit.

Yet through jamming the air with bogus debate and fake studies that simple-minded legislators find persuasive, Omidyar and his network are at the vanguard of attempts to control the politics of just about everywhere it’s possible. Organisations funded by people like Omidyar also provide a reliable employment pipeline for future (and past) leftist politicians. In this respect, it is no exaggeration to say that these NGOs have replaced the trade unions of yesteryear.

Especially in this current climate, Omidyar’s forays into controlling the public discourse around technology and media are ever more relevant. If Omidyar’s philanthropic networks would bankroll a Facebook whistleblower, what else might they do?

George Soros is 91-years-old, and will soon be dead. When that happens, everyone will cheer the demise of a hostile oligarch. But if you think his death would make things politically better you are naïve. There are a number of Soroses out there who are not even on the map, constantly channelling their billions into ways that make the lives of good men and women worse. Does Omidyar have full oversight of all the spending done in his name by his networks? Surely not. But Omidyar the man cannot be untangled from Omidyar the money. And if there are 500 names of those people who have the most power in the occupational class and keep the wheels of this global regime turning, then Pierre Omidyar must be surely among them.

Read also: The Charity-Industrial Complex

John Smoke is the pseudonym of a writer from London.


out NOW

Our first issue, “Art & Literature for Dissidents”, is now available for purchase. Get your copy here.




  
Scroll to top