Zuckerberg Defends Thiel’s Presence at Facebook by Failing to Address It

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Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Days after news broke that the Silicon Valley billionaire and Facebook board member Peter Thiel would donate $1.25 million in support of Donald Trump’s flailing campaign for president, Mark Zuckerberg briefly addressed the company’s Thiel affiliation in a post on Facebook’s internal network (the company confirmed the post’s legitimacy to The Hill).

“I want to quickly address the questions and concerns about Peter Thiel as a board member and Trump supporter,” Zuckerberg wrote before proceeding to dodge the Thiel issue completely.

He continued:

We care deeply about diversity. That’s easy to say when it means standing up for ideas you agree with. It’s a lot harder 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. There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault. It may be because they believe strongly in smaller government, a different tax policy, health care system, religious issues, gun rights or any other issue where he disagrees with Hillary.

I know there are strong views on the election this year both in the US and around the world. We see them play out on Facebook every day. Our community will be stronger for all our differences — not only in areas like race and gender, but also in areas like political ideology and religion.

That’s ultimately what Facebook is about: giving everyone the power to share our experiences, so we can understand each other a bit better and connect us a little closer together.

“We care deeply about diversity” is a rich statement from the CEO of a tech company that’s only 33 percent female (17 percent in tech positions), and disproportionately features white and Asian people in leadership roles. (The company blames the talent pipeline, an excuse that is continually rebutted.)

The diversity Zuckerberg seems to prize is not diversity of ethnicity or gender or background, but diversity of opinion. People need to be able to say whatever they want or hold whatever stance they prefer, no matter how abhorrent that might be. (God help you if you post a picture of it, though.)

“There are many reasons a person might support Trump,” he writes, “that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.” Yes, sure, maybe? But the fact that he is an admitted sexual predator is surely disqualifying, and Facebook and Zuckerberg have the ability to make that clear. Placing “a belief in smaller government” in the same “conventional political beliefs” category as “open racism” is surely disheartening to Muslim or Latino Facebook employees whom Trump’s statements and policies could directly affect.

The truth is, Facebook is Zuckerberg’s company, for all intents and purposes, and he’s not obligated to pressure Thiel off the board. But he could at least be honest about what Thiel’s support of Trump means, both about Thiel and for the company as a whole. Thiel didn’t make a Facebook status about “small government.” He didn’t even donate to the Republican Party — he pledged more than a million dollars specifically to the candidate following a year’s worth of racism and xenophobia, and in the immediate aftermath of audiovisual evidence of the candidate admitting to sexual assault and a barrage of similar claims.

Zuckerberg Defends Thiel’s Presence at Facebook