In an Age of Fake News, CEOs Take Matters into their Own Hands

Steve Ballmer at a Microsoft shareholder meeting

Ever wondered what the age is of the average American? Or how much they cough up each year on parking tickets?

You can probably find the information somewhere online in a few short minutes. But former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wants to do it for you.

On Tuesday, Ballmer launched USAFacts, a free and user-friendly interface that’s packed with information about where the government sources its funding and how it is spent.

Politicians aren’t the only leaders to be plagued by misleading information dressed as news. And Ballmer’s initiative follows in the footsteps of other CEOs who have sought to improve the quality of public discourse.

“WE DON’T MAKE JUDGMENTS OR PRESCRIBE POLICIES. WHETHER GOVERNMENT MONEY IS SPENT WISELY OR NOT, WHETHER OUR QUALITY OF LIFE IS IMPROVING OR GETTING WORSE—THAT’S FOR YOU TO DECIDE.”

 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of the Washington Post and Michael Bloomberg’s unwavering support for Bloomberg News also are endeavors that some may argue are tinged with an element of philanthropy, given the difficulties facing the media sector. Mexican billionaire and Telmex CEO Carlos Slim, meanwhile, remains among the New York Times‘ biggest shareholders.

Ballmer spent $10 million of his own money bringing USAFacts to life and expects it to cost up to $5 million a year to maintain.

The site claims to be non-partisan and relies exclusively on publicly-available government data. “We don’t make judgments or prescribe specific policies,” it says. “Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether our quality of life is improving or getting worse—that’s for you to decide.”

The site’s launch comes as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces increasing pressure to address the quality of the social media platform’s news feed.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” he told an annual developer’s conference after a Cleveland man posted a video of himself murdering someone on Facebook Live.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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