Politics & Policy

Facebook’s Conservatives Find Their Courage

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
An internal revolt provides hope for real change.

In my many years of traveling the country, speaking at universities, litigating against universities, and interacting with conservatives who live and work in the most seemingly uniform progressive enclaves, I’ve come to understand three key truths:

First, there are more conservatives in virtually every major progressive institution than people realize.

Second, they tend to be scattered across the company or university and therefore perhaps feel more alone and isolated than their true numbers would suggest.

Third, they’re afraid of reprisals if they attempt to organize in any manner similar to their progressive colleagues.

The resulting sense of isolation and lack of collective action renders them increasingly vulnerable, reinforces the sense that one has to keep his head down to survive, and builds in the Left a false sense of unanimity that only reinforces their view that all sensible people share their views. Progressive activists interpret silence as agreement, and the lack of dissent only spurs more activism.

It takes real moral courage to break the isolation, declare your beliefs, and seek to organize like-minded conservatives (and sympathetic liberals). It also happens to be the single most effective way of breaking groupthink and initiating internal reform. As I’ve written before, it’s the internal mob that matters — especially when dealing with immense progressive institutions that hold commanding market positions. Harvard and Google care far more about their employees’ positions than they do about the political beliefs of customers who largely either have nowhere else to go or desperately seek the credential that only that institution can provide.

And that’s why the internal conservative revolt at Facebook may — just may — represent one of the most consequential news developments of the year. A senior engineer named Brian Amerige posted a short statement on Facebook’s internal message board. It began with words that will ring true to employees at hundreds of major American corporations and academic institutions:

We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views.​ We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack — often in mobs — anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology. We throw labels that end in ​*obe​ and ​*ist​ at each other, attacking each other’s character rather than their ideas.

We do this so consistently that employees are afraid to say anything when they disagree with what’s around them politically.​ HR has told me that this is not a rare concern, and I’ve personally gotten over a hundred messages to that effect. Your colleagues are afraid because they know that they — not their ideas — will be attacked. They know that all the talk of “openness to different perspectives” does not apply to causes of “social justice,” immigration, “diversity,” and “equality.” On this issues [sic], you can either keep quiet or sacrifice your reputation and career.

Amerige invited colleagues to join a group called “FB’ers for Political Diversity” and — as the New York Times reports — more than 100 employees have joined. It’s a small fraction of the Facebook workforce, but it’s enough that it can’t be easily squelched.

Indeed, the Times reports that angry colleagues have already tried to appeal to Facebook to shut down the group. So far, they’ve failed:

The new group has upset other Facebook employees, who said its online posts were offensive to minorities. One engineer, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, said several people had lodged complaints with their managers about FB’ers for Political Diversity and were told that it had not broken any company rules.

To understand the potential importance of the new group, one only has to understand the most basic facts of human nature and how those facts impact our present, intolerant times. Let’s be honest: When a person’s livelihood or reputation is on the line, courage is hard to come by. At the same time, however, a little bit of courage can go a long way. Groupthink is more easily shattered than one might imagine.

Even one dissenting voice in a room can alter the entire dynamic of the conversation and moderate the whole. The lack of any dissenting voices naturally and inevitably causes the group to migrate to the extremes. The resulting extremism further deters dissent and fosters even more extremism — to the point where the received wisdom of the in-group can seem utterly mystifying to outsiders.

With all due apologies to the Harry Potter franchise, if Amerige can become “the engineer who lived” — the man who dissented, gathered a coalition, and made a difference — then his influence won’t be limited to Facebook (and given Facebook’s power, even if he “only” influences Facebook, he’ll have made an impact); it will extend throughout Silicon Valley and beyond.

Reform from the inside is typically more consequential and durable than reform imposed from the outside. And now we have evidence — from the heart of a social-media giant — that the monoculture may see a challenge. The monoculture is facing a threat, and that is good news indeed for America’s embattled culture of free speech.

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