Beyond Musk: Is The Right-Wing Shift Of Tech Spreading Worldwide?
The culture of Silicon Valley was once associated with social liberalism and tolerance. However, the tech community worldwide, from moguls such as Elon Musk or Peter Thiel, to IT professionals in Poland, and self-described OSINT users in India, is showing signs of a noted right-wing shift.
PARIS — For decades, the tech world acquired a reputation for open-mindedness and politically progressive values. Indeed, the origins of Silicon Valley are intimately linked to the 1960s counter-culture scene just a few miles up the road in San Francisco.
With its central role in today's economy, and arrival in mainstream culture, those would-be hippie days were bound to fade. Yet there has been a notable shift to more conservative — and even far-right — voices from the tech community that first began during the presidency of Donald Trump. Now the rightward direction of tech appears to be accelerating, with the emergence over the past year of Elon Musk as a hero of the populist far-right as only the most visible example.
But it's not just an American thing: a look around the world finds that the growing connections between tech and the far right goes well beyond the U.S., with examples showing up from Poland to India to Argentina.
Tech workers back Polish far right
In the upcoming Polish national elections, which will be held on Oct. 15, computer programmers — and the Polish IT sector as a whole — have been showing high levels of support for Konfederacja, the far-right party currently polling in third place behind Poland’s two major parties: the ruling Catholic conservative Law and Justice (PiS), and the centrist Civic Platform (PO).
Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza launched a survey last month on the most popular Polish tech forum, the Polish IT Industry (Problemy Polskiej branży IT), which has around 71,000 members, and found that 31% of respondents plan to vote for the far-right Konfederacja.
Nationally, the party’s poll numbers are currently at 10.8%, according to Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.
One explanation is that the relatively high-earning tech sector employees in Poland support Konfederacja's free-market policies and lower taxes, after years of the two leading parties seeking support by augmenting social services and family-based welfare stipends. In fact, citizens’ poll results conducted by Kantar found that 23% of higher-income Poles making above 7,000 PLN per month (about 1,565 euro) per month support the far-right party.
Many programmers despise women.
Arek, a 33 year-old programmer for a large international company, is one of the Polish tech workers planning to vote for Konfederacja, arguing that the ruling party’s social programs are contributing to inflation and promoting laziness. “This social assistance, the belief that you can live comfortably, not work, and just take money, stays in people’s genes”, he told Gazeta Wyborcza.“The children of these people will also expect remuneration for nothing.”
But apart from the free-market ideas, Arek also supports Konfederacja's social messages, which he believes differ from those promoted by his workplace. In spite of the presence of far-right ideas in online tech forums and among programmers, Arek told Gazeta Wyborcza that he does not discuss politics at work, as he believes that it could cost him a promotion.
Paweł, an IT manager, contends that programmers “in large part belong to Konfederacja”. Though he himself will support Civic Coalition, the main Polish opposition, he states that the party’s “slogans against fiscal handouts” resonate with programmers, many of whom are opposed to public benefits. “They are young, healthy people, so they are against the Social Insurance Institution and the National Health Fund”, Paweł told Gazeta Wyborcza.
He also noted that some programmers in Polish start-ups also hold attitudes of “contempt" towards women and ethnic minorities. “Many programmers despise women," Pawel concluded. "Although they try to hide it.”
Right-wing "OSINT" trolls in India
Open-source intelligence (a.k.a. OSINT) is the process of using publicly available information — such as Google Maps and satellite imagery — in order to analyze, fact-check or investigate an issue. Though it has frequently been used by journalists to question official narratives, according to international tech news site Rest of World, a number of right-wing Indian accounts have rebranded as OSINT analysts.
This is “part of the larger right-wing influence operations piggybacking on the rise of OSINT culture, and even co-opting it for narrative building," according to social media researchers who spoke to Rest of World. One of the largest misinformation campaigns conducted by these accounts was in May 2021, when Twitter user @thehawkeyex posted numerous threads alleging that Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub had “misappropriated COVID-19 relief donations for personal gain and evaded taxes”.
The threads, which cited public information from Ketto, an online crowdfunding platform, were retweeted by many other right-wing accounts, and the case has since gone to court in India. Ayyub continues to deny all allegations, which follow an ongoing trend by the Narendra Modi administration of cracking down on foreign donations and the presence of NGOs within the country.
Another account, @OSINTupdates, received major attention when it claimed that Hindu temples would no longer be under the control of the Indian government. “This was never verified, despite several questions, but serves as a kind of ‘canary in the coal mine’ tweet that feels out online sentiment for a certain issue and puts an idea in the minds of people”, Joyojeet Pal, a professor at the University of Michigan, who investigated the reach and engagement of these faux-OSINT accounts, told Rest of World.
Self-styled OSINT X account @thehawkeyex
X (formerly Twitter)
Trump and Thiel
In the U.S., the early signs of a rising far-right in tech were at the level of individuals, often dishing out online attacks aimed at women. On a deeper level, Silicon Valley began to openly shift rightward in the mid-2010s, when once-upstart tech moguls became part of the economic elite they once disrupted. Upon gaining greater power and influence, these companies, and their employees, began to call for fewer government regulations, and, according to a 2017 Stanford University study on their political leanings, were against both public and private labor unions.
In October 2016, Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal with Musk and was one of the earliest investors in Facebook, made headlines when he endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for the American presidency. The self-described libertarian went on to become a Republican party mega-donor, spending $20.4 million on campaigns in the 2020 election cycle.
The more significant shift may be happening in a subtler way.
But the most outward and high-profile shift has been around Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO and owner of X. He vehement denies that he is partisan, and says he didn't vote for Trump in either 2016 or 2020. Yet he's referred to progressive ideas as “the woke mind virus,” and brought back banned accounts to Twitter in the name of what he calls "absolute free speech," resulting in sharp increases in the instances of racist language and hate speech, as users tried to test the limits of the site’s content moderation under its new ownership.
Still, the more significant shift may be happening in a subtler way. The growing presence of the right-wing in Silicon Valley has been noted by insiders, including former Facebook and Dropbox executive Aditya Agarwal. “We are currently in the midst of the largest rightward-shift in Silicon Valley politics that I have seen in my 20 years here”, he wrote in a 2022 tweet, “Some of this is on the surface, a lot is below it”.
Argentina bitcoin flirt
In Argentina, the Aug. 14 landslide victory of Javier Milei in the primary election took many by surprise. A former tantric sex coach, Donald Trump fanboy and daytime television personality, Milei is a political outsider that has been hoisted to the top through a barrage of far-right libertarian promises.
Both in style and substance, Milei hopes to lure the country's tech industry. He wants to do away with Argentina's public health policies, link Argentina's economy with the U.S. dollar, end obligatory primary schooling and legalize the private sale of organs — because if "women can have control over their own bodies, why not everybody else?"
Amid the policies and antics of Milei's campaign is also his firm stance against Argentina's central bank, driven by his belief in libertarian economy. As part of this, Milei is an avid supporter of Bitcoin, calling it a "return of money to its original creator: the private sector." Argentina is the 13th country with most crypto usage in the world, and a study proposed by Bitso found that 45% of Milei voters either has or wants to own cryptocurrency.
Argentina's Javier Milei giving a speech in Buenos Aires.
France and Israel try to hold the line
Still, the signs of this political change in the tech sector are by no means dominant. In the U.S., tech's progressive leanings are still holding firm, with only 15.7% of Silicon Valley residents currently registered for the Republican Party, while the rest identify as Democrats or Independents, according to the California Secretary of State.
In other countries, where the far right is making inroads with voters, the tech industry has served as a bulwark against extreme movements. In France, tech-friendly President Emmanuel Macron continues to enjoy relatively high popularity in the sector, with new policies and investments that support the competitiveness of French tech that have left little room for perennial far-right challenger Marine Le Pen to gain support.
The populist wave may attract some in tech, even as it undermines their industry.
In Israel, the powerful tech industry has long preferred to avoid a domestic political arena that is among the world's most explosive. Yet, the recent attempts by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to usurp power from the judiciary branch has prompted several top industry leaders to join the movement to defend the institutions of democracy.
Indeed, beyond the economic policy, and even the left/right divide, the populist wave spreading around the world may attract some in tech even as it undermines their industry.
Ami Dror, founder of Israeli tech startup BriBooks, warned that his government’s proposals would mirror power grabs witnessed in Hungary, Poland and Turkey.
“What Netanyahu and his government are trying to do is identical to those places,” he told TechCrunch. “So when tech companies saw what’s happening, we all pretty much shifted from working on our startups to working on trying to stop it, because it would mean the end of the Israeli ecosystem, the end of ‘Startup Nation.’”
Or as one protest sign said: “High Tech is the locomotive of the economy and democracy is its fuel.”
*Valeria Berghinz contributed to this report
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