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Politics and the Small Print

In recent months many Americans have been turning to sheet cake, internet kittens and videos of tiny burrowing mammals. Frankly we’ll take anything that provides a modicum of spiritual comfort, as we lurch from the prospect of all out-nuclear war, to all-out civil war to the collective realization that our President couldn’t run a bath, let alone the free world.

Add to this the remarkable fallout over James Damore’s infamous Google memo, the recent ‘fall of Brotopia’ – the high-profile exodus of Valley Bros from VC’s like Binary Capital and companies like Uber, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Valley would be a sullen place right now.

In fact, the mood is rather ebullient. Most people I speak to are mysteriously reenergized and there is a tangible sense of purpose.

There has been a curious reaction to what’s going on in Washington. Where the current administration is abjectly failing to adhere to the US constitution, CEO’s of tech companies appear to be stepping into the void and consciously enshrining the principals of equality into the terms and conditions of their services. Incredibly, it seems to be working.

In case you missed it, AirBNB, GoDaddy and Google took a swift and noticeable stance against white supremacists amid the fallout of Charlottesville. In the days leading up to the sickening events, AirBNB deleted the accounts of White Supremacists making it impossible for them to find accommodation. A day after, GoDaddy and Google deleted fascist websites rendering them invisible. Their justification? The users broke the T&C’s of their agreements.

This group, and others are taking up the fight against fascism with signup screens and small print. Who knew the essence of liberal American patriotism lived in those terms and conditions that no one reads but everyone declares ‘I Agree’?

In a way, brands like AirBnB, Google and GoDaddy are stepping up to become the angels of our better nature. I use the term brands rather than businesses, because it is the power of AirBnb’s brand, built on the idea of ‘belonging’ which makes its stand against white supremacists all the more potent.

It is good to see after years of empty 'we’re here to the make the world better' promises. In the words of AIrBNB CMO’s Jonathan Mildenhall on twitter – “We will not rest until we have ZERO racism and bigotry on our platform”.

The question is – why now? Corporations are traditionally known to be conservative. By not taking a stand, they have historically avoided the risk of alienating a vocal percentage of their audience. Now things have changed – we’re seeing companies forced to take a side as larger numbers of people weaponize their freedom of choice.

For over a century people have been organizing their labor and leveraging its collective supply for better wages and conditions. Of course, this tactic only works if demand for labor is high. Nowadays, it isn’t. Jobs can be outsourced, automated or coded out of existence with a few keystrokes. Labor doesn’t work for us anymore.

The only leverage we have left is to organize consumption. By threatening to remove it, we can leverage corporate interests and encourage companies take a stand where our politicians will not. We’re seeing this with consumer organizations like ‘Sleeping Giants’, and I’m predicting more in the future. 

After years of swatting away ‘politics’ as something of concern, patriotism has begun to stir among many tech CEOs, as well as questions of what it means to be American.

It is worth noting however, that the idea of a highly disruptive company like Airbnb as modern day patriot can be a stretch for many Americans.

Disruption comes at a price – and a heavy one for those being disrupted, in this case workers in the traditional American hospitality industry. The Disruptors have it much easier – and it is precisely this kind of easy wealth and easy politics enjoyed by the top echelons in California’s tech world that make them an obvious target for the swathes of Americans, angry at a 'liberal elite'.

Nevertheless, it’s sad to think that “All men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence has to be written into the Terms and Conditions of privately owned tech companies for it to be taken seriously. But given the alternatives – more vehicles driving into peaceful protestors, more empty-eyed men shouldering assault rifles and raising Nazi salutes, I’ll take sad over evil any day. 

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