Facebook Cites ‘Diversity’ As Reason To Keep Billionaire Trump Donor On Board

In the name of diversity, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is standing by the company’s controversial board member, billionaire Peter Thiel, an outspoken Donald Trump donor and booster ― and the man who brought down Gawker.

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post shared with employees that leaked to Hacker News on Tuesday.

Thiel has been facing growing criticism from the tech and venture capital community for supporting Trump. Last week, he donated a reported $1.25 million to the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign.

“There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault,” Zuckerberg said. “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.” 

Thiel’s support for Trump was hardly a secret ― he spoke at the Republican National Convention this summer. The surprise was his October donation, which comes as many Republicans are running away from Trump, who is facing accusations of sexual assault and is claiming the U.S. election is rigged, among other things.

It’s notable that Facebook is making an argument for diversity. The company has publicly struggled to diversify its ranks: Women represent just 35 percent of employees. And people of color are hard to find: 4 percent of workers are Hispanic; 2 percent are black. To Facebook’s credit, it shares this data publicly.

This summer, the social network blamed its diversity problem on a lack of qualified candidates ― a move that some critics thought was a bit disingenuous, since the company has many positions available that are open to those with computer science degrees. Black representation in non-tech roles at the company is only 5 percent.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s more than 1 billion users come from everywhere on the political spectrum, and it has sometimes strained to appear politically neutral.  

The social network was criticized earlier this year for favoring so-called liberal news outlets over conservative websites in its trending news section. And it reacted swiftly by cutting loose human editors in favor of an algorithm that highlights trending news.

Zuckerberg’s message of support for Thiel was reminiscent of one from Sam Altman, who heads Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley investment firm where Thiel works in an advisory role.  

Altman’s message was met with outrage. Gizmodo called for his resignation.

He also drew a response from Ellen Pao, the former Reddit CEO known for filing a widely publicized sex discrimination suit against stalwart venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. In a post on Medium, she argued that Thiel has to go:

“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,” she wrote. Pao now helps run Project Include, a group that aims to further diversity in the Valley.

Thiel cofounded PayPal and Palantir and is worth an estimated $2.7 billionHe’s also a professed libertarian with some edgy views. He wrote that women’s suffrage and welfare were bad for democracy. He’s also professed an interest in colonizing the ocean and living forever.

“We were confused by his seasteading funding, angered by his negative views on women’s voting rights, amused by his reported fixation with living to 120, and annoyed by his keynoting the Republican National Convention,” Pao wrote. “But we are completely outraged to read about Thiel donating $1.25 million to Trump.”

The billionaire drew wide attention ― and ire from the media ― this summer for bankrolling wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. Angry with Gawker for publishing stories about his sexuality, his publicly stated goal was to put the news site out of business. 

Thiel’s tie-up with Trump seems fitting, then. The GOP nominee has sued at least one journalist and threatened many more lawsuits himself.  

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