As the world of social media blossomed, many of the industry's curators maintained that a more open society would lead to the creation of a more tolerant one. Heightened comfort about sharing more feelings with more people, so the argument goes, should engender greater empathy among people connecting online.
In its original mission statement, Facebook sought "[t]o give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." In June, that changed, now indicating the company aims "[t]o give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."
It's somewhat ironic, then, that political minorities in Silicon Valley are afraid to openly express their viewpoints on the very platforms their industry believes to be forces for tolerance. On the heels of the controversy over a Google memorandum, Business Insider published an article Tuesday that explored "The Lonely Lives of Silicon Valley Conservatives" based on interviews with right-of-center employees at tech companies.
Here's one key passage:
Some fear losing their jobs while others worry they'll be ostracized by colleagues. (That's in a sector where 76 percent of technical jobs are held by men, and blacks and Latinos make up only 5 percent of the workforce.) Adding to the stress is Silicon Valley's penchant for open floor plans, which make it hard to tune out an officemate on a rant, and the way companies encourage workers to socialize and bring their whole selves to their job. Several tech workers said they don't post about politics on Facebook, where they're friends with many coworkers. "My wife is very paranoid about me sharing my opinion, even on private WhatsApp groups with my friends," said a former Amazon engineer who now works at Oracle. Most employees who spoke asked not to be identified because they worried about their job security.
Social media platforms created and fostered by the liberal revolutionaries in Silicon Valley were supposed to create a world where people were more comfortable expressing their beliefs, knowing a click of the Enter key would release those thoughts into a community conditioned to exhibit greater levels of empathy and tolerance. Now, in their very own community, non-liberals are so scared of backlash from the industry that predicted greater sharing would lead to greater openness, they conceal their beliefs.
Yes, it's a statement on the hypocritical intolerance of tolerance's champions. But it's also a statement on Silicon Valley's struggle to create online communities that meet the goal of having a healthy impact on society, specifically on our larger political and cultural debates.
For some tech companies, perhaps the best case studies in this failure are sitting right in Silicon Valley.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.