Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Why Am I Unsurprised To Find Peter Thiel In The Middle Of These Silicon Valley IdPol Squabbles?

WaPo  |  The day after President Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of inciting violence, to “stand back and stand by,” during the first presidential debate last week, tech investor Cyan Banister tweeted that the group was misunderstood and had “a few bad apples.”

The open defense of an organization that has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center is one extreme example of an increasingly public reactionary streak in Silicon Valley that diverges from the tech industry’s image as a bastion of liberalism. Some libertarian, centrist and right-leaning Silicon Valley investors and executives, who wield outsize influence, power and access to capital, describe tech culture as under siege by activist employees pushing a social justice agenda.

Curtis Yarvin, dubbed a “favorite philosopher of the alt-right” by the Verge, has become a familiar face on the invite-only audio social network Clubhouse, in rooms with investors such as Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, the founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which invested in the app.

Cryptocurrency start-up Coinbase recently sought to restrict political speech by employees, a move many interpreted as a shift to the right because it came in reaction to internal discussions of Black Lives Matter.

Tensions are running high even at some of the biggest tech companies. The crackdown on employee speech in response to social activism over the past year has spread to Facebook, Google and Pinterest, among others.

In September, Facebook restricted spaces for political discussions after employees protested the company’s moderation policies against hate speech affecting Black users. Pinterest shut down a Slack channel used to submit questions for company meetings and turned another Slack channel read-only, opting to use a different tool for up-voting. Employees, who had used both channels to question leadership about race and gender bias and pay equity in recent months, were upset, according to records viewed by The Washington Post.

Banister, a former partner at Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm and an early investor in Uber and SpaceX, said she applauded Coinbase’s decision. “Enough is enough. The pendulum swings and it swings back,” she told The Post. “Sometimes people just want to have a safe place to go where they don’t have to think about this stuff anymore because it’s literally everywhere. ”

Banister told The Post she became interested in the Proud Boys after Trump mentioned them during the debate. She said she does not condone white supremacy and it should have been “dead easy” for the president to say the same.

“Questioning something does not mean condoning or agreeing,” she said.

Often, the trigger for this public pushback has been social pressure around racial equity, according to diversity consultants.

The tech industry went through similar reactionary spasms around the last presidential election, revealing a different strain of libertarianism from the counterculture and cyberculture geeks coding away in their garages. At the time, the underlying tension was also around equity and injustice. But the battle was about disavowing Thiel, a Trump donor and adviser, rather than expressing support for Black Lives Matter.