Peter Thiel has already made headlines this year springing from the causes he’s donated his many millions. This Spring, Forbes reported that Mr. Thiel had been secretly funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against long-time enemy Gawker – a move that caused some backlash protesting the idea that very wealthy people could fund lawsuits to which they are not a party.
Gawker, Thiel, Hogan
Now Mr. Thiel is embroiled in another controversy that illustrates the powerful effect that money can play in the public sphere. News broke that the billionaire entrepreneur has invested over a million dollars into Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. While it was already known that Thiel was a supporter of Mr. Trump, the amount of money given to the controversial businessman’s campaign – at a time when he is being accused of sexual assault by multiple women, caught on tape bragging about sexual assault to Access Hollywood and urging supporters to camp out in minority neighborhoods to watch voters – has caused many in Silicon Valley to come out to condemn Thiel and his donation.
Peter Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook and one of the co-founders of Palantir and Paypal. Although he is no longer involved in the business, #boycottpaypal has been trending on Twitter due to Thiel’s donation to the Trump campaign.
Those in tech defending Thiel have also come under fire. Steve Altman, President of Y Combinator which employs Mr. Thiel as an advisor, defended his relationship with Thiel. Mr. Altman is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but wrote via Twitter about the importance of maintaining respect for those whom you disagree with vehemently, including Peter Thiel. Mark Zuckerberg, CNN reports, took a similar tack in a post on Facebook’s internal network where he wrote, “We care deeply about diversity. That’s easy to say when it means standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about. That’s even more important.”
We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.Mark Zuckerberg
Steve Altman and Y Combinator have not been spared from any consequences from the decision to continue associating with Peter Thiel – and by degrees of separation, Donald Trump. Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit and co-founder of Project Include – an organization whose mission is to assist in diversifying startups and the tech industry as a whole – responded to Mr. Altman’s post with one of her own, condemning those defending and supporting Thiel, stating…
While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here. We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence. Giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable. [Mr. Trump’s] attacks on Black, Mexican, Asian, Muslim, and Jewish people, on women, and on others are more than just political speech; fueled by hate and encouraging violence, they make each of us feel unsafe.Ellen Pao
Consequently, Project Include ceased their relationship with Y Combinator, which serves as an incubator for the sort of startups Ms. Pao’s organization assists on diversity & inclusion. It remains to be seen what sort of reaction will rise from Mark Zuckerberg’s post rebuking cutting ties with Peter Thiel. Moreover, it remains to be seen how the tech industry, struggling so mightily with inclusion, will wrestle with the aftermath of an election that’s shone a bright light on the deep divisions still present in a society that same industry wishes to progress.