Pierre Omidyar intercept ebay
© Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images
Pierre Omidyar, Founder of eBay, and Publisher of the Intercept looks on during the final session of the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, on Thursday, September 23, 2010.
The internet is the last remaining instrument for dissent and free discourse to thrive outside state and oligarchical control. This campaign aims to put an end to that.

It is completely unsurprising to learn, as Politico reported last Wednesday, that the major financial supporter of Facebook "whistleblower" Frances Haugen's sprawling P.R. and legal network coordinating her public campaign is the billionaire founder of EBay, Pierre Omidyar. The Haugen Show continues today as a consortium of carefully cultivated news outlets (including those who have been most devoted to agitating for online censorship: the New York Times' "tech" unit and NBC News's "disinformation" team) began publishing the trove of archives she took from Facebook under the self-important title "The Facebook Papers," while the star herself has traveled to London to testify today to British lawmakers considering a bill to criminally punish tech companies that allow "foul content" or "extremism" — whatever that means — to be published.

On Sunday, Haugen told The New York Times that her own personal Bitcoin wealth means she is relying on "help from nonprofit groups backed by Mr. Omidyar only for travel and similar expenses." But the paper also confirmed that the firm masterminding Haugen's public campaign roll-out and complex media strategy, a group "founded by the former Barack Obama aide Bill Burton," is "being paid by donors, including the nonprofit groups backed by Mr. Omidyar." He is also a major donor to a shady new group calling itself "Whistleblower Aid" — bizarrely led by anti-Trump lawyer and social media #Resistance star Mark Zaid, who has been one of the most vocal critics of actual whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, both of whose imprisonment he has long demanded — that is now featuring Haugen as its star client.

Attorney Mark Zaid
Attorney Mark Zaid
Omidyar's net worth is currently estimated to be $22 billion, making him the planet's 26th richest human being. Like so many billionaires who pledge to give away large parts of their wealth to charity, and who in fact do so, Omidyar's net worth somehow rapidly grows every year: in 2013, just eight years ago, it was "only" $8 billion: it has almost tripled since then.

Omidyar's central role in this latest scheme to impose greater control over social media is unsurprising because he and his multi-national foundation, the Omidyar Network, fund many if not most of the campaigns and organizations designed to police and control political speech on the internet under the benevolent-sounding banner of combating "disinformation" and "extremism." Though one could have easily guessed that it was Omidyar fueling Frances Haugen and her team of Democratic Party operatives acting as lawyers and P.R. agents — I would have been shocked if he had no role — it is still nonetheless highly revealing of what these campaigns and groups are, how they function, what their real goals are, and the serious dangers they pose.

Any time I speak or write about Omidyar, the proverbial elephant in the room is my own extensive involvement with him: specifically, the fact that the journalistic outlet I co-founded in 2013, and at which I worked for eight years, was funded almost entirely by him. For purposes of basic journalistic disclosure, but also to explain how my interaction with him informs my perspective on these issues, I will describe that experience and what I learned from it.

When I left the Guardian in 2013 at the height of the Snowden/NSA reporting to co-found a new media outlet along with two other journalists, it was Omidyar who funded the project, which ultimately became The Intercept, along with its parent corporation, First Look Media. Our unconditional demand when deciding to accept funding from Omidyar was that he vow never to have any role whatsoever or attempt to interfere in any way in the editorial content of our reporting, no matter how much he disagreed with it or how distasteful he found it. He not only agreed to this condition but emphasized that he, too, believed the integrity of the new journalism project depended upon our enjoying full editorial freedom and independence from his influence.

In the eight years I spent at The Intercept, Omidyar completely kept his word. There was never a single occasion, at least to my knowledge, when he attempted to interfere in or override our journalistic independence. For the first couple of years, adhering to that promise was easy: he was an ardent supporter of the Snowden reporting which consumed most of our time and energy back then and, specifically, viewed a defense of our press freedoms (which were under systemic attack from multiple governments) as a genuine social good. So our journalism and Omidyar's worldview were fully aligned for the first couple of years of The Intercept's existence.

The arrival of Donald Trump on the political scene in 2015 changed all of that, and did so quite dramatically. As Trump ascended to the presidency, Omidyar became monomaniacally obsessed with opposing Trump. Although Omidyar stopped tweeting in March, 2019 and has since locked his Twitter account, he spent 2015-2019 as a very active user of the platform. The content he was posting on Twitter on a daily basis was utterly indistinguishable from the standard daily hysterical MSNBC panels or New York Times op-eds, proclaiming Trump a fascist, white nationalist, and existential threat to democracy, and depicting him as a singular evil, the root of America's political pathology. In other words, the Trump-centric worldview that I spent most of my time attacking and mocking on every platform I had — in speeches, interviews, podcasts, social media and in countless articles at The Intercept — was the exact political worldview to which Omidyar had completely devoted himself and was passionately and vocally advocating.

The radical divergence between my worldview and Omidyar's did not end there. Like most who viewed Trump as the primary cause of America's evils rather than just a symptom of them, Omidyar also became a fanatical Russiagater. A large portion of his Twitter feed was devoted to the multi-pronged conspiracy theory that Trump was in bed with and controlled by the Kremlin and that its president, Vladimir Putin, through his control over Trump and "interference" in U.S. democracy, represented some sort of grave threat to all things good and decent in American political life. All of that happened at exactly the same time that I became one of the media's most vocal and passionate critics of Russiagate mania, frequently criticizing and deriding exactly the views that Omidyar was most passionately expressing on Twitter, often within hours of his posting them.

My dissent on Russiagate became so vocal, just as Omidyar was devoting himself to it with greater and greater zeal, that liberal outlets began publishing lengthy and highly critical profiles of me that had little purpose but to expel me from Decent Liberal Society due to my Russiagate heresy and to cast that dissent as the byproduct of mental instability rather than genuine conviction. This extreme divergence between my public profile and Omidyar's core views expanded for years. Often Omidyar would promote and herald a view on Twitter in the morning, and I would then publish an article on The Intercept attacking that same view in the afternoon, and then go on television that night to attack it some more.

Perhaps most extraordinary was that Omidyar became convinced that salvation from the evils of Trump and Russia was to be found primarily in propping up the faction of #NeverTrump Republicans — led by people like neocon Bill Kristol, career CIA operative Evan McMullin, and the consummate scumbags of the Lincoln Project — whom he regarded as uniquely patriotic and noble for putting country over party (even though their influence was confined to cable news green rooms and major newspaper op-ed pages). Omidyar began funding many of the #NeverTrump groups overseen by Kristol — who I often denounced and still regard as one of the most toxic and deceitful figures in American political life — as well as groups whose sole purpose was to hype the Russian threat and who claimed they were united in patriotic bipartisan unity to combat Russia-and-Trump-fueled disinformation on the internet. To underscore how deeply ensconced Omidyar became in the very political faction for which I harbored the greatest scorn and expressed the most unbridled contempt, his very last tweet since he stopped using Twitter in 2019 was an approving retweet of the Lincoln Project's Rick Wilson, claiming for the ten thousandth time that conclusive proof had emerged of Trump's criminality.

That Omidyar's political activism and my journalism did not just diverge, but became polar opposites, was so glaring that it began attracting the attention of journalists who contacted us to tell us they intended to write stories on this strange situation. It was indeed extreme: there were times when I was publishing investigative articles or scathing denunciations of the very groups Omidyar was funding and promoting, putting him in the situation in which the U.S. government often finds itself: essentially funding both sides of the same war. It was an irresistible story to journalists: at the time, I was the most prominent and the highest-paid journalist associated with The Intercept, which relied almost entirely on Omidyar's annual multi-million dollar largesse, and yet my primary political and journalistic focus at The Intercept was tantamount to a war on Omidyar's most cherished political beliefs and core objectives.

On at least two occasions, journalists with major outlets contacted each of us to let us know they wanted to write about this glaring split. Yet neither ended up doing so for a simple reason: Omidyar made it emphatically clear that I had the absolute right to express whatever views I wanted, and that my doing so would never create a problem with him, let alone cause him to rethink his funding of The Intercept.

To underscore the point, Omidyar told me privately on both occasions that he knew when he decided to fund The Intercept that the day would come, likely soon, when not just me but other journalists there would be publishing articles with which he vehemently disagreed or even undermined his other interests. When he decided to fund The Intercept, he told me, he was supporting independent journalism, not promoting a particular ideology or political agenda. And indeed, no matter how much my attacks escalated on his core beliefs and the other groups he was heavily funding — and escalate they did! — I never received any remote signal that my outspoken journalism and commentary were imperiling his ongoing funding of The Intercept.

I recount all of that for two reasons. First, I want to make clear that my analysis of Omidyar's role in this scam Facebook "whistleblower" campaign and the dangers it presents is in no way motivated by personal animus toward him. Indeed, I harbor no personal hostility toward him; to the contrary, I genuinely respect that he kept his word for all those years by honoring our editorial freedom even as he was funding my journalism and the journalism of others with which he vehemently disagreed. As I made clear when I quit The Intercept in protest over their censorship of my pre-election article about Joe Biden, I viewed the degradation of The Intercept as the fault of its senior editorial management team, who had no involvement in the outlet's founding, did not share its core mission or values, and had reduced it to little more than a trite ideological mouthpiece for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

But the second point is the more important one. When it comes to billionaire funders of political and journalistic projects, Omidyar — despite the long list of political views and activities of his that I regard as misguided or even toxic — is, for the reasons I just outlined, as good as it gets. And yet despite all that, it is simply unavoidable — inevitable — that the ideology, views and political agenda of a billionaire funder will end up contaminating and dominating any project for which they are the exclusive or primary funder. Omidyar is not some apolitical or neutral guardian of good internet governance; he is a highly politicized and ideological actor with very strong views on society's most debated questions.

And that is why it is so dangerous that the campaign to control and police the internet — to launch pressure campaigns to further centralize the control over what can and cannot be said online, and to further restrict the range of views that is deemed permissible — is being funded almost entirely by a small handful of multi-billionaires like Omidyar. No matter how benevolent and well-intentioned they may be, the power and control they will inevitably wield, even if they try not to, will be limitless.

And when it comes to a free internet, few things are more dangerous than allowing a tiny number of like-minded billionaires to use their vast wealth to control the contours of permissible speech. Yet that is exactly what has been happening. And the obviously orchestrated, well-planned and well-financed campaign centered around this new high-tech Joan of Arc, ready to be martyred to save us all from an unsafe internet, is merely the latest example.

To understand the dangers of a small group of billionaires funding campaigns like this Facebook "whistleblower" spectacle and other "anti-disinformation" and "anti-extremism" groups, put yourself in the place of senior editors of The Intercept. Despite Omidayr's genuine affirmation of editorial independence, they live in complete captivity to, and fear of, Omidyar's whims and preferences.

As is true of so many billionaire-funded NGOs and "non-profits," editors and senior writers at The Intercept receive gigantic, well-above-the-market salaries. Because the site depends almost entirely on Omidyar's infinite wealth, it does not sell any subscriptions or ads and it therefore does not have any pressure to produce at all in order to generate revenue. It is a dream job for most of them: enormous salaries, endless expense accounts, a complete lack of job requirements, and no need even to attract an audience. For years, outside of three or four journalists, articles published by The Intercept produce almost no traffic. With rare exception, nobody reads the site. They have a massive budget to create highly produced videos and yet their videos almost never exceed even 10,000 views: most tiny, from-their-garage, zero-budget YouTubers attract larger audiences. And nobody cares, because the money flows in from Omidyar no matter what.

It does not get better than that, and that is why almost nobody ever quits The Intercept. Why would they? They just stay for years and years, collecting a huge salary, with no need to do anything but avoid angering one man. They work in an industry where jobs disappear with astonishing frequency, where layoffs are the norm, where the very existence of most organizations is precarious, and where the slightest dissent from liberal orthodoxies can render someone permanently unemployable. Those who work in outlets funded by billionaires have essentially won a type of lottery, at least temporarily, and very few people are willing to risk losing a winning lottery ticket, especially if they know they have no alternatives in the event that their security blanket is taken away.

That means that the entire news organization has a constituency of one: Pierre Omidyar. If you were an Intercept editor who knows you could never get anywhere near that high salary working anywhere else — and that is true for virtually the entire senior editorial staff at The Intercept other than its Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim — you will of course be desperate to keep the sinecure going. That is not really corrupt as much as it is just basic self-preservation. If remaining in Omidyar's good graces is the only way to pay your large mortgage and maintain your lifestyle — which is true for most of them — then that will be all you ever think or care about. And you will know that your ability to keep the money spigot flowing depends on one thing and one thing only: keeping Pierre Omidyar happy or, at the very least, never displeasing him.

Consider the power that bestows on Omidyar in the lives of those dependent on him. He is literally like a god to them: for those unlikely to find any similar position if The Intercept shuts down, his every whim can mean life or death for their careers and their happiness. They wake up knowing every day that one man has the power, on a whim, to destroy their livelihood. That desperate dynamic produces a climate where catering one's worldview and work product to Omidyar's ideological preferences becomes the overarching imperative. The only thing that matters to them in their work is keeping their sole benefactor happy and avoiding his wrath.

I want to avoid the caricature here. This need to please Omidyar is often more subliminal than conscious. There are numerous journalists who work at The Intercept who do great work and rarely think about Omidyar in any conscious or direct way. They produce valuable reporting and investigations. But the inescapable reality is that the senior editorial management absolutely knows that their only real job is to foster a climate that will keep Omidyar happy, which means only hiring or publishing voices that will not offend him, ensuring that The Intercept's political and journalistic posture is aligned with his ideological worldview and, most of all, prohibiting anyone or any journalism from remaining at The Intercept if it strays too far from Omidyar's political project.

And when my journalism and Omidyar's vocally expressed views began to diverge so radically and publicly, that is precisely what they began to do. In response to my increasingly vocal heretical views on Trump, Russia, and Russiagate, The Intercept's senior editors started hiring mainstream journalists from places like The New York Times to do nothing but produce the most hysterical Russiagate fanaticism and anti-Trump agitprop: in other words, they did everything possible to bring The Intercept's journalistic brand in full alignment with Omidyar's Twitter feed and political funding.

Thus did The Intercept begin routinely publishing and aggressively headlining #Resistance dreck from these former New York Times reporters and others under Omidyar-pleasing tabloid headlines like "IS DONALD TRUMP A TRAITOR?" and "Reporters Should Stop Helping Donald Trump Spread Lies About Joe Biden and Ukraine" and "Democrats Need to Wake Up: The Trump Movement Is Shot Through With Fascism," the latter of which peddled a slew of false claims found in the sewers of anti-Trump Twitter that Trump had ordered "involuntary hysterectomies conducted on people in a migrant detention center" and ignored reports of Russian bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers. They were one of the outlets which published and ratified the CIA's lie in the weeks before the election that the Biden emails published by The New York Post were "Russian disinformation" (and they are also one of the outlets that has refused even to acknowledge the new book by Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger proving that the documents were authentic and the CIA lied, because they know that their only reader who matters — Omidyar — does not mind that they circulated lies in order to help defeat Trump).

As a reward for these scripts, perfectly tailored to Omidyar's Twitter feed, The Intercept was gifted with appearances on MSNBC's most deranged prime-time shows. Just a couple of months before Chris Hayes hosted New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait to explore whether Trump had been a Kremlin asset since the 1980s, the DNC-loyal host invited James Risen on to discuss his Intercept article accusing Trump of treason:
MSNBC's Chris Hayes trump
MSNBC's Chris Hayes speaks to the former New York Times reporter James Risen about his Intercept article accusing Trump of treason on Feb. 17, 2018
Though The Intercept was originally designed to be a platform for voices too anti-establishment and radical for mainstream corporate outlets, the site under its new editorial management entirely stopped publishing any writers who could remotely be described that way, relying instead solely on journalists who could be and are published by at least a dozen of other standard, inoffensive left-liberal publications. Ever since I left, there has been barely a syllable published there that deviates in any way from Omidyar's worldview. In sum, they did everything possible to ensure a complete alignment between their editorial positioning and Omidyar's political agenda.

And I am absolutely convinced that the reason Intercept editors decided for the first time ever to try to editorially interfere in one of my articles two weeks before the election — by essentially prohibiting me from examining the questions raised by the Hunter Biden archive about Joe Biden's integrity — was because they knew that Omidyar had poured enormous amounts of money into defeating Trump in 2016 when the outlet was aggressively reporting on the Clinton emails (because Intercept editors assumed she would win anyway), and were petrified of appearing once again to be perceived as "helping Trump" in 2020 (by doing their jobs in reporting on Biden) when Omidyar was again using his wealth to help defeat Trump.

Even though Omidyar may not have wanted The Intercept to do that, that is the natural and inevitable outcome of any organization dependent upon a billionaire with infinite funding. They scrutinize his every public utterance for clues about his desires of the moment, and then ensure that they snap into line so as to never wander too far afield from his core views. They will always be a reflection, an extension, of his political sentiments and preferences because fear of losing his funding will always be too great to risk alienating him by adopting any posture other than servitude. And thus you have dozens of journalists and editors — including ones with integrity — who go to work everyday inside a regime that has been constructed to force them into captivity to Omidyar's belief system.

This dynamic is, needless to say, far more overt at organizations dependent upon billionaires less benevolent than Omidyar. Often it is made explicit that the purpose of the news outlet or activist group funded by the billionaire is to advance the political goals of the funder. But even when it is not made explicit — indeed, even when that goal is repudiated by the funder — that is the dynamic that will inevitably dominate. The reason I was able and willing to knowingly express views that were so disparate from his was because I knew I had alternatives if The Intercept failed. For those not fortunate enough to be in that position, it is completely normal and natural to cater to the funders' whims. And that is exactly what they and so many other billionaire-funded organizations do.

Perhaps the harm that comes from this dynamic is limited when it is confined to a single media outlet or a handful of outlets. There will still be diversity of thought and opinion provided that there are enough media outlets being funded by billionaires with diverse ideological views. And this framework need not be absolute. Even the Washington Post, despite being owned by Jeff Bezos, would have some space to criticize the Amazon founder (which they have done) or express views that deviate from his: the Post is a successful enough brand and organization that it would survive if Bezos abandoned it. Even then, there will be a natural if subliminal tendency to avoid anything that would really anger the boss, but there is a bit more freedom when there are alternatives. But that is not the case for groups whose entire existence depends upon a single funder.

But the dangers are far more acute when it comes to groups whose clear mission is to control and police what can and cannot be heard on the internet. It is one thing for a single news outlet read by very few people to be enslaved to the political preferences of a single billionaire. It is another thing entirely when an entire industry of activist groups arises — whose mission is to police the internet and our political discourse — and it, too, is dependent upon the financing of a small handful of like-minded billionaires. And that is the perilous situation we now have.

It is hard to overstate how much of the funding behind "anti-disinformation" groups comes from the same small group of billionaires. This means that complex and contentious questions of what constitutes "fake news," "hate speech," "disinformation" and "extremism" — and how many limits should be placed on the right to express ideas that fall under those labels — are being shaped by the ideology of billionaires like Omidyar, which in turn means they are exerting outsized control over how the contours of our political debates are defined.

Omidyar reacted to Trump's election by announcing, in early 2017, that his Omidyar Network was making "a $100 million commitment to address some of the causes" of what they described as "the global trust deficit." The Omidyar Network said that this enormous sum would be doled out "over the next three years" and "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... across the globe."

That was when Omidyar became increasingly interested in using his wealth to shape policies that, in his view, would help curb the "harms" of social media, which he partially blamed for Trump's election. As Axios reported in 2018, "the Omidyar Network gave a $300,000 short-term grant to what is now the Center for Humane Technology, run by former Googler Tristan Harris, to capitalize on the growing interest in the negative effects of tech products." Just last Wednesday, the Omidyar Network published a release praising itself for supporting "whistleblowers" from inside tech giants on the grounds that these companies need far more "public oversight" to limit "the harms they cause."

That the goal of the Omidyar Network is to use Omidyar's wealth to influence the outcome of democratic debates and even elections was not something they hid. To the contrary, they trumpeted this goal:
"Across the world, we see a worrying resurgence of authoritarian politics that is undermining progress towards a more open and inclusive society," stated Omidyar Network Managing Partner Matt Bannick. "A lack of government responsiveness and a growing distrust in institutions, especially the media, are eroding trust. Increasingly, facts are being devalued, misinformation spread, accountability ignored, and channels that give citizens a voice withdrawn. These trends cannot become the norm, and we must protect the principles of openness, participation, and accountability. These are the foundations of a healthy democratic society."
They added that "over the last ten years, Omidyar Network has supported independent media, investigative journalism, and fact-checking organizations around the world." Think how much power just this single expenditure — and it is just the tip of the Omidyar iceberg — vested in one billionaire to dictate what is "true" and "false," and what constitutes permissible ideology as opposed to "extremist" or "authoritarian" ideology. One of the prime beneficiaries of that grant was the Anti-Defamation League, which was once a respected group devoted to combating various forms of discrimination but has since become little more than an arm of the Democratic Party, attempting to force the silencing of voices at odds with establishment American liberalism.

The dangers of a billionaire masquerading as some sort of neutral, objective, apolitical arbiter of the truth — even if he genuinely believes that is all he is doing — are self-evident. Omidyar proved himself to be a deeply political and partisan person by devoting himself with unlimited energy to opposing the person who was elected in 2016 by the American public to be president. And his claim to oversee a system that distinguishes "truth" from "disinformation" was greatly impugned when he became one of the most gullible and reflexive advocates of virtually every prong of the Russiagate fraud, which concluded with Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting no Americans for the alleged crime and concluded he found "no evidence to establish" this conspiracy. In other words, Omidyar himself propagated one of the most unhinged and toxic disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories in recent history. His credibility to arbitrate "disinformation" is further undermined each time The Intercept publishes lies and propaganda, as it did right before the 2020 election when it laundered the CIA lie that the Biden emails were "Russian disinformation."

Some of Omidyar's political donations are secret, but — to his credit — he makes many of them public. Most are to Democratic Party causes and mainstream liberal advocacy groups. During the 2016 election, he donated $100,000 to a SuperPAC whose sole purpose was stopping Trump. His Omidyar Network provides more transparency than most groups of its kind, and its 2020 disclosures acknowledges funding going to standard liberal advocacy groups such as the Center for American Progress (founded by former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and headed for years by notorious conspiracy theorist and Biden White House aide Neera Tanden).
John Podesta, Neera Tanden, and Hillary Clinton
John Podesta, Neera Tanden, and Hillary Clinton
In 2020, the investigative reporter Julie Kelly documented that "nearly every outspoken Trump foe on the right is somehow connected to Omidyar's largesse through the Democracy Fund and its 'sister organization' Democracy Fund Voice." She added that ever since Kristol's neocon Weekly Standard magazine closed in 2018, "Kristol and most of his NeverTrump cohorts are on the dole of" Omidyar, who is "generously underwriting any cause or influencer committed to ending the Trump presidency."

Omidyar's wealth is increasingly devoted to causes aimed at policing the internet and political speech online. He has used his "Democracy Fund" to finance numerous groups claiming to combat "disinformation" online. According to the group's own site, one of their top priorities is what they call "platform accountability" for Facebook, Google and other social media sites that foster political speech.

They leave no doubt that Omidyar's goal is nothing short of reshaping what is and is not permitted to be heard or read on the internet. In a post published just last month, they explained just how fundamental that goal is to them: "At Democracy Fund, there's never been a question as to why we would support and advocate for platform accountability — it is central to our reason for being." Their goal is chilling: they want to impose criminal liability on any companies that allow information to be heard or read that they deem to be "harmful":
In this moment, we have unprecedented opportunities to make social media companies liable for their harms, to rein in the worst aspects of their business model, and to force changes in how they operate. If we are successful, we can move toward a world where social media companies enable multiracial and pluralistic democracy, instead of fracturing it, where facts are amplified, rather than discounted, and where there is accountability for hate speech and incitements to violence.
They go on to define "Platform Liability" this way: "Transforming the policy frameworks for how social media platforms are held liable for the online and offline harms their systems and choices produce."

In 2017, I reported on a new group that brought together pro-war Democrats, long-time GOP neocons, and high officials of the U.S. security state and called itself the "Alliance for Securing Democracy." Its Board of Directors and Advisors read like a who's who of D.C. Deep State swampery: "Jake Sullivan (national security adviser to Joe Biden and the Clinton campaign), Mike Morrell (Obama's acting CIA director), Mike McFaul (Obama's hawkish ambassador to Russia)" sit alongside "leading neocons such as Mike Chertoff (Bush's homeland security secretary), Mike Rogers (the far-right, supremely hawkish former congressman who now hosts a right-wing radio show)" and, of course, Kristol himself.

This new group's primary stated goal was greater hostility toward Russia. We will, they said, "develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors' efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions," and also "work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin's ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe."

One of its primary "accomplishments" was the Hamilton 68 dashboard that purported to track how Russia was influencing various journalists and Twitter accounts to disseminate Kremlin propaganda, with plans "to conduct similar analyses for other platforms, including Facebook, Alphabet's YouTube and Reddit". For a while, this dashboard was a huge success, with corporate news outlets constantly treating it as some sort of scientifically reliable measure to uncover Russian disinformation campaigns and shaping headlines around its claims. As Matt Taibbi put it back then: "More and more often now, the site's pronouncements turn into front-page headlines." But eventually, the preposterous fraud of its secret, obviously shoddy methodology was too glaring even for corporate outlets to keep up the scam and they began to renounce it, as I reported in 2018:
But in recent months, the credibility of Hamilton 68 has been widely challenged. Journalists and researchers have identified numerous inaccurate stories that were based on Hamilton 68 data, examined the involvement of highly ideological actors in the development of the tool, and questioned the "secret methodology" of Hamilton 68 and specifically its bizarre refusal to disclose the list of 600 accounts on which it bases its data. Some additionally note that the narrative about Russian bots and trolls is increasingly used as a tool to discredit a wide variety of legitimate political movements around the world. . . . The U.S. media's abuse of this data finally caused even one of the creators of Hamilton 68 to express frustration with these inaccurate conclusions based on the most superficial understanding of the data, saying: "It's somewhat frustrating because sometimes we have people make claims about it or whatever — we're like, that's not what it says, go back and look at it."
What I did not know at the time was that Omidyar was one of the primary funders of both the Alliance for Securing Democracy and its fraudulent Hamilton 68 dashboard, a constant target of my criticisms and mockery. But it should have been obvious that Omidyar was funding it; it brought together every one of his political obsessions: the evil influence of Russia in U.S. democracy; the nobility of uniting neocons, CIA operatives, and pro-war Democrats in the name of stopping Trump; and, most of all, finding nefarious ways to police internet discourse while disguising it with benevolent-sounding goals. We seek, said the Democracy Fund, "to address misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda; polarizing content; promoting freedom of expression and association; protecting domestic elections from foreign interference; and civic engagement" — who could be opposed to any of those nice things?
Francis Haugen
© EG24 News/Getty Images
Francis Haugen
But Omidyar's agenda of using his vast and always-expanding wealth to control internet discourse has come into the sharpest focus yet with the revelation that he is a primary funder of Facebook's "whistleblower" Frances Haugen and the large network of highly politicized Democratic Party operatives controlling the rollout of her ready-for-TV show. As I wrote earlier this month — in an article entitled "Democrats and Media Do Not Want to Weaken Facebook, Just Commandeer its Power to Censor" — it was instantly clear that Haugen was not so much of a "whistleblower" but rather "just their latest tool to exploit for their scheme to use the power of social media giants to control political discourse in accordance with their own views and interests."

The semantic discussion about whether Haugen qualifies as a "whistleblower" is of little significance. She took some documents from Facebook without authorization that are reasonably revealing and in the public interest (Omidyar once said back in 2009 that those who do that should be treated as criminals and journalists should turn them in, but arguably changed his mind given his support for Snowden, though he took government documents, not corporate ones). But whether or not one wants to apply that label to her does not obscure this key fact: Haugen has a very explicit agenda, with many strong opinions about how Facebook and social media should be treated, and they strongly align with Omidyar's. And to whatever extent she can be called a "whistleblower," her current role is far more as activist and advocate for a wide array of extreme "reforms" for how the internet functions.

Haugen clearly believes that Facebook needs more governmental regulation on what content is allowed on the platform; she even generously volunteered herself to serve as a member of this overseer board. She is opposed to encryption, the technology that allows citizens to communicate in private, without the government or corporations spying on their online activities (while Omidyar has supported groups that promote encryption, including the Freedom of the Press Foundation of which I was a co-founder and on whose Board I still sit, he has long been an opponent of allowing internet anonymity). And most importantly of all, Haugen's star-turn rollout was perfectly timed for debates in both Canada and Great Britain about whether social media companies should face criminal charges for allowing "harmful" or "dangerous" materials to be published — exactly the legal change that Omidyar's group described as "central to our reason for being."

Much of Omidyar's support for the Haugen media blitz comes from his donations to a new group calling itself Whistleblower Aid. Omidyar has given at least $150,000 to that group. It claims to be "a pioneering, non-profit legal organization that helps patriotic government employees and brave, private-sector workers report and publicize their concerns." The banner at the top of its side proclaims: "SUPPORT FRANCES HAUGEN," with a helpful link to a GoFundMe campaign that allows you to give the group more money.

Yet regarding this group as pro-whistleblower is dubious in the extreme, given that one of its key figures, calling himself the group's Founding Legal Partner, is a Washington lawyer named Mark Zaid, who — like so many other D.C. lawyers — has become somewhat of a minor social media celebrity (he calls himself "@MarkSZaidEsq" on Twitter) by spending the Trump years lending his legal credentials to every anti-Trump, #Resistance trope. But what makes Zaid in particular such a bizarre figure to cast as a whistleblower hero is that he has long been one of the most vocal critics and opponents of two of this generation's most significant and heroic whistleblowers: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Indeed, Zaid's Twitter account over the last decade is full of relentless, obsessive attacks on the two whistleblowers, calling them criminals and thieves, opposing pardons and commutations for them, and urging full punishment for each. "Supporting Assange is the radical left wings equivalent to MAGA. Is that who you are? Tell me now so I can just block you," he proclaimed in 2019. Zaid, now posing as a champion of whistleblowers, has been churning out attacks like this on the duo for a decade, though he appears to have deleted all of his Twitter content from prior to 2019. The other key figure from the group listed on its webpage is its CEO Libby Liu, whose Twitter account is now locked and thus cannot be searched, and who previously spent sixteen years at Radio Free Asia, the U.S. Government-funded "news service."

In sum, the key figures of this Omidyar-funded "Whistleblower Aid" group that is orchestrating Haugen's defense are "whistleblower advocates" in the same way that Haugen is a "whistleblower" and Omidyar is a benevolent apolitical guardian of internet safety and our public discourse. They are all highly politicized actors. Zaid appears to like "whistleblowers" only when they serve the D.C. establishment's agenda and hate those who subvert or undermine the U.S. security state. Omidyar has very strong views about what should and should not be heard on the internet. The CEO of this group spent most her adult life working for an outlet funded by the U.S. Government. And Haugen's own views align with theirs, so she has become the ideal instrument in their hands to advance those goals.

Among the key objectives Haugen is now serving is the criminalization of social media companies for allowing content to be disseminated that is deemed — by someone or other — to be "harmful." On Monday morning, her grand European tour began, as she testifies before British lawmakers about the harms of allowing social media companies to be free of government control. Both the Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the opposition Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, support such criminalization, as the Evening Standard reported:
New laws could see "tough" prison sentences imposed on those who allow the sharing of illegal material online, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Boris Johnson warned social media bosses they will face "criminal sanctions" for allowing "foul content" to be shared on their platforms as he pledged the Online Harms Bill would be debated in Parliament before Christmas.

The legislation is expected to force large tech firms - such as Facebook, Twitter and Google - to abide by a duty of care to users.

Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had to "clamp down on the extremism, the hate and the abuse that festers online" following the killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess on Friday.
As always, the towering question with any attempts to prohibit "hateful" or "harmful" or "false" content on the internet is which group or set of institutions will be empowered to make those determinations? Whenever government officials and billionaires like Omidyar start warning of "harmful" speech, that is always a precursor to train people to expect that their rights of free expression are about to be curtailed. Every "crisis" — the 9/11 attack, Trump's 2016 victory, "Russian interference," the COVID pandemic, the 1/6 "insurrection" — is instantly exploited using that formula.

After 1/6, we were deluged with claims that the internet must be restricted lest we be plagued with a repeat of that horrific day. Indeed, many of the Haugen-fueled headlines — under the pompous title of "The Facebook Papers" — have exploited fears of 1/6 to justify the coming campaign for an online censorship regime. And few events have served the online censorship campaign quite like the COVID pandemic, where any dissent is instantly cast as tantamount to murder, thus powerfully training citizens around the world to equate free discourse with danger (allowing this speech literally murders people in a pandemic).
washington post headline jan  6 facebook
© The Washington Post
The Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2021
Whatever else is true, it is vital that we have clarity rather than deceitful propagandistic terms shaping the contours of these debates. So often, what is meant by "harmful speech" that needs to be curtailed — or Boris Johnson's "foul content" and Sir Keir's "extremism and hate" — is the by-product of highly ideological and political frameworks. We should not allow power-hungry schemes of political censorship to be rebranded as noble campaigns for public safety.

And if we are going to have real debates about what is and is not "harmful" content that must be banished from the internet under the penalty of criminal prosecution, then that should at the very least be a collective judgment, not one dominated by a tiny handful of multi-billionaires who use their bottomless wealth in the dark to shape society to conform to their ideological preferences and other interests.

Multi-billionaires already wield far too much power as it is. The liberal blogger Digby, analyzing Sheldon Adelson's wealth and influence, once tried to highlight with graphics what the human mind can barely comprehend: what it means for a single human being to have $25 billion.
million billion money  comparison

Digby's blog, Dec. 7, 2012
It is virtually impossible to fathom that quantity of wealth, let alone the amount of political power that can be created with it. Multi-billionaires can and do buy television outlets and finance media companies and single-handedly create powerful NGOs and advocacy groups to control public debate. There is virtually no limit on their ability to dominate political debate: except one.

The internet, as they know, is one of the few tools — arguably the only one — that can level the playing field, that can allow non-billionaires a fighting chance to be heard above the systems they erect and control. The absolute last thing we should want or tolerate is for those same billionaires scheming to control the internet, to eliminate the last vestige where dissent and free thought that is not subject to their oligarchical control can still thrive. The current billionaire-funded campaign that uses Haugen as a telegenic hero and exploits multiple political and health crises to keep fear levels high is about nothing other than seizing control of the internet, to permanently neutralize it as an oppositional force where dissent and anti-establishment organizing and discourse can thrive.