Even in the “Land of the Free”, political bravery can be costly if not well managed. By now it’s no secret that America has a presidential election in November and this time it’s different, there are two candidates who represent two parallel views but I’ll leave the politics to the Americans and other pundits. There have been endorsements for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from the tech world. For example, Meg Whitman (a republican voting democrat in November) of HP announced that she will be voting Clinton while the likes of Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel have pledged support for Trump. While none of those endorsements have raised any particular eye brows, one tech near billionaire’s is making headlines for the wrong reasons.
It’s possible that when Facebook in 2014 acquired Oculus Rift (the VR headset company) for $2b, the didn’t that by 2016, Palmer Luckey who created the company in the first place would make what analysts now describe as misguided political donations. Palmer Luckey gave $10,000 to Nimble America which is a pro Trump organization. The problem here is not the funding but what the organization he’s funding stands for. The Daily Beast which reported the story on Friday said Nimble America; a Trump meme machine said it’s dedicated to proving that “shitposting is powerful and meme magic is real,” according to the company’s introductory statement, and has taken credit for a billboard its founders say was posted outside of Pittsburgh with a cartoonishly large image of Clinton’s face alongside the words “Too Big to Jail.”
“We conquered Reddit and drive narrative on social media, conquered the [mainstream media], now it’s time to get our most delicious memes in front of Americans whether they like it or not,” a representative for the group wrote in an introductory post on Reddit.
In other words, it’s a troll network out there with some really bad intentions to deliberately post the wrong stuff out there and while this may be a political tactic, a for profit organisation should be able to balance up these things because of the diverse nature of staff and investors. Silicon Valley and Hollywood have over the years declared support for politicians by means of fund raising and while this is allowed, they do it such that even of the person the campaigned wins the election, it doesn’t affect their overall business in the end.
Mr Luckey who made about $700m from the deal went further to say “the American Revolution was funded by wealthy individuals,” NimbleRichMan wrote on Saturday. Luckey confirmed to The Daily Beast he penned the posts under his Reddit pseudonym. “The same has been true of many movements for freedom in history. You can’t fight the American elite without serious firepower. They will outspend you and destroy you by any and all means.”
But you see actions like this have consequences on business. Tech news website Ars Technica reported that some developers have started either suspending or cancelling their work on the Oculus platform to protest Luckey’s political donations. “Hey Oculus, Palmer Luckey’s actions are unacceptable,” writes Tomorrow Today Labs, a company working on VR physics middleware and an unannounced VR game. “NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there.” Indie developers Polytron (best known for Fez) also said “In a political climate as fragile and horrifying as this one, we cannot tacitly endorse these actions by supporting Luckey or his platform,” they wrote (and announced via tweet). “If you are a voting citizen of the United States, please remember to register and make your voice heard this Nov. 8. Do not let bigotry, white supremacy, hate, and fear win.” This comes as there have been links between Palmer Luckey and Milo Yiannopoulos; a now banned individual who railed against Ghost Busters actress Leslie Jones on Twitter even forcing her to suspend her account. But after reports to Twitter, he as finally suspended from the micro blogging site. He’s seen as “far right racist and bigot” by many (black and white).
In face of backlash from his primary constituency (the tech world) over this, he has now apologised saying in a statement where he said he is “deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners.”
Inventions and ideas like VR headsets needed some form of capital to take root eventually which is why Facebook bought the company in the first place and every tech guy and business person for that matter knows that presidential elections come every four years and that’s a long time to be a tech pariah even if you’re genius.
We haven’t heard anything from Facebook yet on this.