Aug 14, 2017

Silicon Valley's new political reality

Sam Jayne / Axios

The left-coast has found itself in a war with the alt-right. Tension between mostly progressive Silicon Valley and conservatives who feel singled out and marginalized by it has been bubbling under the surface for some time, but that dynamic has been brought into sharper focus by the response from both sides to the Google diversity memo and the firing of its author, James Damore.

What's happening now: Google — and Silicon Valley as a whole — is facing a rising campaign in what's being seen as a turning point in the online culture wars. The debate has only grown as animosity between the right and the left took a violent turn in Charlottesville on Saturday:

  • Protests: "Now, the pro-Trump media say that Damore's newfound fame is indicative of a bigger movement — an all-out protest against Silicon Valley," writes BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel in his breakdown of how the pro-Trump media saw Damore as a compelling hero and gave him a national platform.
  • Anti-Google ads: These have appeared around California with phrases like "search for diversity of thought somewhere else," per Business Insider.
  • March: Protestors are expected to march on Google this Saturdayat Google offices around the country. On Sunday, march organizer Jack Posobiec posted a note on its website condemning the Charlottesville violence as well as "silencing free speech as a means of promoting any political agenda."

The bigger picture: Google is far from the only tech company alt-right groups take issue with. They see a number of platforms from Airbnb to Twitter and Facebook as taking steps to intentionally sideline or even silence them by banning certain listings and posts. The Google memo offered a vehicle to push the narrative mainstream.

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  • In Washington, Silicon Valley companies are already dealing with an abrupt attitude change toward them on a number of fronts: antitrust concerns, bias on their platforms and their role in the rise of job-killing AI, to name a few, as my colleague Mike Allen recently explained.
  • In Silicon Valley, the populist phenomenon is banging on the door of many who've taken pride in avoiding politics. Steve Hilton, who played a key role in British conservative politics before moving to Silicon Valley, tells the NYT: "The last couple years, I've been trying to convey to people what lies behind the phenomenon," he said. "There's a lot of: 'Well, what about Mexicans? What about women?' Well, O.K., but there's a really big issue that life for half the country has gotten increasingly grim."

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described Jack Posobiec as part of the alt-right movement.

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