The silence of post-election Silicon Valley is deafening
On July 14, 2016, nearly 150 tech leaders signed an open letter denouncing Donald Trump, calling him "a disaster for innovation." This month, leaders from some of the companies included in this letter might take a seat at Trump's table — a controversial move for those who publicly slammed his candidacy just months ago.
The president-elect invited tech industry leaders to a "technology roundtable" on Dec. 14, the Wall Street Journal reported. The invite was signed by Trump's appointed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and venture capitalist and Trump campaign investor Peter Thiel. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and Oracle Co-CEO Safra Catz plan to attend, USA Today reported.
Mic reached out to Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Slack, Reddit and Snapchat — all companies with at least one representative listed on the aforementioned open letter — and asked if they plan to have a representative attend Trump's summit. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment. Google, Slack, Reddit, Apple and Snapchat have yet to respond.
When news broke that tech leaders had been extended an invite to the summit, some working in Silicon Valley took to Twitter to remind the overlords that accepting a seat at the table signals a major blow to their (relatively new) commitments to diversity and raises skepticism of their values.
"Why would you want to sit at the table with them?" Slack engineer Leslie Miley elaborated in a phone call. "That's the question. There is no economic benefit you will gain that is worth that seat. If you make that decision, you may not be a bad person, but your priorities are horribly misaligned."
"Literally, let's take a stand," Miley said. "Let's not do what we've always done, which is excuse it like Facebook excused Peter Thiel. Excuse it like so many other companies have excused their executives from sexist, racist, misogynistic behavior."
Facebook came under fire for keeping Thiel on its board after the Silicon Valley entrepreneur pledged to donate $1.25 million to Trump's campaign. Many argued that it put Thiel's values into question, and subsequently led them to question Facebook's values.
Miley, who formerly worked at Google and Twitter, noted that much of the behavior coming out of the Trump campaign mirrored Silicon Valley's not-so-distant past, like inappropriate language, parties and touching. He said that up until 2010 or 2011, this kind of behavior "went unspoken."
People got promoted. People ended up as CEOs and COOs, running their own companies, running their own tech funds. Look at the shit Peter Thiel used to say. The guy has justified rape. I mean, come on. This is when you stand up. You don't go along with this. If you go along with this, it shows you haven't come that far from Peter Thiel justifying rape, justifying apartheid.
Silicon Valley, an industry of leaders, loves to follow
Months before Trump was elected president of the United States, the tech world was proudly adding their names to a list that stood to signify their public disapproval of the candidate. Now, when asked if they would accept an invitation to join Trump at a roundtable, they decline to comment or don't respond at all. Some appear to be working toward a closer relationship with Trump's Washington: Google recently added a job listing for a manager of "conservative outreach and public policy partnerships" following the election.
For an industry that prides itself on being forward-thinking leaders, Silicon Valley likes to follow, Miley said. It took Pinterest and Google to release their diversity numbers in 2013 and 2014, respectively, for other major companies to do the same. The numbers weren't good, but it was an olive branch to the public that they would hold themselves accountable for creating more inclusive workforces.
There are a host of reasons why the notion of tech companies kissing up to Trump is disconcerting. When the Intercept's Sam Biddle asked a number of tech companies if they would help Trump's administration develop a Muslim registry, only Twitter said it would not.
For an industry that prides itself on being forward-thinking leaders, Silicon Valley likes to follow.
Tech companies have access to our data: names, our location, our credit card information, our home addresses, our passwords, our private messages, our photos; the list goes on. "Remember those 1/5 people in your company who voted for Trump?" Slack engineer Erica Baker wrote in a Medium post following Trump's win. "Some might very well think this is a good time to shoot their shot to get into his good graces by feeding him information from inside the company, including customer data."
These are also companies with loads of money and great influence, and their lobbyists have the power to enact major change. They don't need to cozy up to the administration to work with the government. Trump needs Silicon Valley more than Silicon Valley needs Trump: The president-elect's stance on technology has been largely anti-freedom of information and anti-privacy, and his initiatives to close "the parts of the Internet where ISIS is" and developing tech to combat encryption would require him to get on tech leaders' good graces. Silicon Valley doesn't need to rub elbows with the administration to fight for its values. Companies can choose not to show up to this meeting.
"Don't confirm or deny. Just let it play out."
So what will it take for tech leaders who were once vocal about their opposition to Trump's presidency to stand up to the president-elect post-election? Miley said that it'll take someone like Twitter's Jack Dorsey or Box's Aaron Levie, someone "fairly high-profile" to publicly take a stand.
But press teams, he said, would be likely inhibitors to any tech titan publicizing their condemnation.
"If you get a Cook, a Tim Cook, you get a Sundar [Pichai] over at Google or a [Satya] Nadella at Microsoft, I think if they speak up, other people will follow," Miley said. "But they have really good [communications] teams that have probably told them to not speak up and not say anything and just let this play out. 'Don't confirm or deny anything. Just say that we haven't heard anything.'"
If silence is the strategy, it's evident in my inbox. I emailed over a dozen major tech companies inquiring their position on attending the summit. Three responded, none with a direct comment. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment. Only Uber made its position clear: According to a spokesperson, the company isn't sending a representative to the meeting, but Uber will work with Trump's administration when it pertains to the business.