Massive global companies tend to shy away from politics for one simple reason: getting involved can court controversy, and can potentially alienate users and customers who don’t share the same views. Silicon Valley is usually no exception, but the unprecedented political situation in the US has been testing that long-held status quo.
Last year, when the US election was hurtling forward with innumerable twists and turns, most companies kept mum about who they supported or thought was better for their bottom line. There were a few exceptions, such as PayPal founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, whose endorsement and support of Donald Trump garnered many headlines and much criticism throughout Silicon Valley. But up until the point where Trump was inaugurated, for the most part the tech universe kept silent, with many pundits and analysts assuming that the traditionally liberal sector probably favored the Democratic candidate.
While President Trump has long been a very divisive figure, it wasn’t until recently that tech companies seemed to feel it was worse to stay quiet than to take a stand. One big reason for this is that Trump’s more conservative and protectionist policies run counter to Silicon Valley’s widely-held “change the world by making it more connected” ethos. While it may be seen as a business risk to speak out openly against the President, these tech companies also know that many of their users have aligned themselves with that same open-minded ethos. In other words, keeping quiet when they have a platform on which to take a stand could be just as risky for their brand’s reputation.
Spurred last week by President Trump’s Muslim ban, we’ve seen a truly unprecedented public display of tech companies making public statements against the president. As Quartz wrote in response to the ban, “Some of the most vocal critiques have come from Silicon Valley, which had previously seemed acquiescent to the election of US president Donald Trump. However late, the American tech sector has finally found its voice.” Here is a run-down of the fall-out from this controversial policy, and some of the Silicon Valley companies and leading tech figures of have chosen to speak out.
Uber: After a communications gaffe about surge pricing amidst airport protests caused the hashtag #deleteUber to trend as protests swept the country, Uber was forced into somewhat of a corner. While the company was initially seen as not supporting the protesters, it later became even worse that Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, was sitting on Trump’s economic advisory council. Amidst all the pressure, Kalanick announced he would step down from his position, noting that “Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”
Facebook: We’ve learned that Facebook is an incredibly powerful force in shaping the national conversation. So Trump might feel worried if the leaders of that company seem to be against him. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a public essay in response to the ban defending immigrants, noting they are central to the US’s success. Meanwhile, Facebook’s other high profile executive, Sheryl Sandberg, donated a reported $1 million to Planned Parenthood, an organization that Trump has threatened to defund.
Google: Given that Google was founded by two immigrants and staffed by many others, it’s no surprise that they oppose the ban. Quartz reported that Google has 200 employees directly affected by the policy, which is perhaps why Google CEO Sundar Pichai released a statement stating his views opposing the ban and co-founder Sergey Brin joined protests at San Francisco International Airport which were demonstrating against the policy.
Not bad really, for a silent tech sector without a voice?