America's New Plutocrats: Why Twitter's Jack Dorsey is Tweeting from Ferguson
Jack Dorsey, the billionaire co-founder of Twitter and chief executive of payments startup Square, is tweeting, Vining and marching in Ferguson this week, where a young black man was shot by a police officer, sparking riots, looting and protests. It's tough to imagine any other billionaire getting himself out on the streets of Missouri.
Dorsey's activism tells us a lot about the new generation of rich kids from Silicon Valley. Specifically, that they're not afraid to alienate customers, and even their own investors, if it means jumping on a liberal cause they believe in.
Much of the language of Silicon Valley sounds cute - such as the "sharing economy" - but disguises ruthlessly capitalistic business models. But while some investors, most notably PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, cleave to the right, or develop their own strands of libertarianism, the vast majority of Silicon Valley's employees, journalists and chief executives are hard-Left.
They support wacky, Left-wing causes, such as the current industry-wide obsession with "women in tech," designed to drag girls kicking and screaming into being dorks and working for database companies. Many donated to Obama and will reflexively donate to whomever the Democrats put up in the next election.
This is significant because technology companies and their founders are set to become the next generation of American plutocrats - and, more crucially, because they're developing an appetite for media companies. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post was just the first in a wave of coming acquisitions from the tech elite.
Whispers in the industry say that Rupert Murdoch's failed $75 billion offer for Time Warner has opened the door to other players, most notably Google, which has been desperate to get into content for years. Like Netflix before it, Google is anxious to grow beyond search and advertising, and start producing its own journalism and TV.
So long as rich liberals controlled platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, there was always a risk that structural biases might appear. For example, employees of these companies are by default much more hostile to conservative people and ideas. It's a lot harder to get a serious hearing from, say, Twitter's complaints team as a member of the Tea Party than as a far-Left eco-activist or feminist campaigner.
But once these mega-rich, idealistic young start-up founders start buying up newspapers and TV stations, it's not hard to imagine what might happen: imagine the Post looking and sounding more like MSNBC, with even less time given to business interests and family values. We've already seen it happen with Netflix, whose Orange Is The New Black show has been lauded by liberals for giving celebratory screen time to transgender actress Laverne Cox.
In some ways, Dorsey's support for the Michael Brown cause is a bad example, because even Republicans acknowledge that there are some lingering racial tensions in America - even if they hate liberals for playing them up and using them to excuse thuggish behaviour, or as proxies for other ideological battles.
But we should remember that Conservative-leaning outlets such as FOX and the Wall Street Journal are contracting around a single individual - Rupert Murdoch. There's no delicate way to say this, but the old dude isn't going to be around forever, and it's hard to believe that whoever follows him will lead News Corp with quite the same iron grip and philosophical outlook.
The media moguls of tomorrow will be those who can pay to prop up content business struggling to turn a profit and who have strong ideas about how the world ought to work. Seeing a Twitter billionaire on the streets of Ferguson reminds us exactly who those moguls will be.