April 16, 2018

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: Silicon Valley’s Dangerous Political Blind Spots: Will the lack of ideological diversity doom big tech companies?

When it comes to software, Silicon Valley understands the threat of monocultures. If 100 percent of computers run the same code and malware authors discover an exploit, 100 percent of computers will be vulnerable to the same attack. Fortunately, the way to reduce such risks is straightforward: Increase diversity.

Alas, this insight seems limited to software. Technology executives have yet to fully recognize the risks posed by the potent political monocultures forming inside their own companies.

We’ve reached the point where many tech employees in the San Francisco Bay Area who happen to be libertarian or conservative feel compelled to keep their views secret. Others, open about their opinions, report that they’ve suffered career setbacks for being insufficiently progressive, even as their outspoken left-of-center colleagues who spent 2016 sporting “I’m With Her” hats have not.

Even some self-identified liberals are dismayed at what they view as a toxic monoculture. Tim Ferriss, a startup advisor and investor, moved to Austin after living for 17 years in San Francisco. “Silicon Valley also has an insidious infection that is spreading—a peculiar form of McCarthyism masquerading as liberal open-mindedness,” he posted on Reddit in November. “I’m as socially liberal as you get, and I find it nauseating.”

This climate is unhealthy for employers as well. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple are increasingly likely to miss opportunities to develop products that can appeal to the half of the nation that cares little for left-of-center politics.

That’s created market opportunities for substitute services, from Gab.ai (a Twitter alternative) to Brave (a web browser), from InfoGalactic (akin to Wikipedia) to Voat.co (a chat board site much like Reddit)—each of which advertises itself as committed to protecting free speech, privacy, and a diversity of viewpoints. D.tube, a decentralized video sharing site, boasts that, unlike YouTube, it is “not able to censor videos” due to built-in technological constraints.

What if the Internet interprets Silicon Valley as damage and routes around it?

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