This morning, Twitter is abuzz with the bizarre story of Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who turns out to have been pouring at least some of his fortune into a superPAC that makes anti-Hillary memes and acts obnoxiously on the internet. But Luckey is just the most visible example of an ongoing trend that Silicon Valley tries to gloss over. Silicon Valley is very right wing, and that can take forms from the prosaic to the disturbing.
In public, of course, Silicon Valley is very much about putting a progressive face on the future. Facebook offered rainbow icons to celebrate marriage equality, Twitter created a Black Lives Matter emoji that automatically populates when you use the hashtag, and so on. The problem is less in the public face than in the boardroom, which is much more private.
Generally, when this gains visibility at all, it tends to be the more bizarre or juvenile, much like a superPAC dedicated to turning out memes. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick, for example, spoke openly of being an Ayn Rand fan, something he ultimately had to disclaim in public after being roundly mocked for it. Peter Thiel, before his current flirtation with the Donald Trump campaign, was notorious for attempting to fund independent city-states that would float on international waters. Tim Draper, of investment firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and a major player in the money machine of the tech industry, essentially attempted to make Silicon Valley its own state with the Six Californias initiative, a plan widely derided as merely an attempt to give tech billionaires their own state to play with.
And, in reality, the rank-and-file employees are hardly united in their progressive bent. Sexism has been a pervasive problem for years. In the social media sector alone, Mark Zuckerberg publicly chewed out his own employees for defacing Black Lives Matter messages, and the company has been accused of deleting content that might portray police officers in a negative light. Twitter’s deafening silence in the face of verbal abuse has been notorious for years. Snapchat seems completely unable go more than a few months without some form of racism controversy.
To be fair, the tech industry employs millions of people, and is hardly a unified bloc. However, the rosy view it presents of the future seems fundamentally at odds with how the people who pay for it all and make the decisions seem to believe we’ll get there.