Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended venture capitalist and board of directors member Peter Thiel’s support for Donald Trump in an internal memo that leaked to the public on Tuesday. The memo appears to have been written on Monday. In it, Zuckerberg says that Thiel’s support for Trump is an example of the diversity that Facebook wants to foster.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
Facebook already has a complicated relationship with politics, and having an outspoken Donald Trump supporter on its board of directors probably doesn’t help.
The memo was published to Hacker News, a forum run by the Y Combinator venture firm whose president, Sam Altman, said on Sunday that he wants to “stop Trump”. This sentiment echoes much of Silicon Valley’s disdain for Trump — but Altman also stops short of firing Thiel, who is a part-time partner at the firm.
Thiel is famous for co-founding PayPal (with Elon Musk), investing early in Facebook, and now for both supporting Trump and supporting Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. (His investment firms have also supported a bunch of weird science projects that are worth paying attention to.) This has made Thiel notorious among both the press and people against Trump.
Yet Thiel is quick to note that he isn’t a politician, and his supporters have said that he shouldn’t be condemned for his political beliefs. That’s effectively what Zuckerberg said in this memo: Though people might have their misgivings about Trump as a potential leader of the free world, firing someone for their political beliefs does not a diverse company make.
Zuckerberg’s memo comes hot on the heels of the news that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was bankrolling pro-Trump memes. In the time since, Oculus has distanced itself from Luckey even as CEO Brendan Iribe says he’s free to have his own views.
Luckey wasn’t at the Oculus Connect 3 conference where Zuckerberg, Iribe, and others discussed Facebook and Oculus’s VR efforts. Thiel has financially supported the Trump campaign but is still on the company’s board; Luckey paid for some memes and seems to be getting pushed out of the public eye. That’s a pretty strange definition of “diversity” in the workforce.
Inverse reached out to Facebook to confirm that the leaked memo is legitimate and ask about its publication; this story will be updated if the company responds.