As Silicon Valley grapples with its role in last week's election and how it plans to move forward, one of its most prominent communicators is working to temper the Nationalist movements that appear to be gathering momentum following Donald Trump's presidential win.
Dex Torricke-Barton, who has served as a speechwriter for Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is leaving his current post working for Elon Musk at SpaceX to helm an effort intended to bridge what he sees as a disconnect between Silicon Valley and the rest of the country.
In the week since Trump's election, Torricke-Barton has assembled a collection of employees at Silicon Valley companies charged with addressing what he describes as a "growing gulf in understanding, empathy and policy; between coastal elites and communities left behind by globalization, between those who seek greater diversity and those who are fearful of it, between the “winners” and “losers” in a changing world." The grassroots project is yet-unnamed, but can be found at onwards.world.
"Tuesday's election result is yet another huge setback," Torricke-Barton wrote in a blog post announcing his decision. "This has been an election marked by repeated attacks on immigrants, minorities, women, and many other communities. I have always believed in an America that is confident, outward-looking and works hard to drive the world to action on what matters most."
Torricke-Barton's move comes at an especially precarious time for Silicon Valley and some of its biggest companies. Facebook, Twitter, and Google all are struggling with perceptions of their roles in our current political and media ecosystems. Employees at Facebook and Twitter have publicly expressed concern about their platforms' responsibility to combat filter bubbles, fake news, harassment, and even their ability to generate large sums of money for candidates through fundraising ads. Meanwhile, its executives like Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey have been reluctant to shoulder any blame. Torricke-Barton told BuzzFeed News he's not interested in pointing fingers, but in finding results.
"Silicon Valley has always spoken about this vision of a world defined by openness, compassion and advancing the interests of humanity," he said. "And right now all those things are at stake in the world. We have to decide whether we want to continue solving the same old problems in the same old way or whether we want to engage in more communities outside of our own."
Torrick-Barton told BuzzFeed News he will soon travel to areas of the country like the rustbelt that depend on the technology built by Silicon Valley, but that are rarely thought of as core users. He plans to gather data through interviews and surveys to try and learn how everything from manufacturing automation to basic social media are shaping communities beyond the coastal bubbles.
"I think it's easy to send your outrage over social media and wring your hands for a few days and then live life the way you did and hope others sort it out," Torricke-Barton said. "I don't condemn that at all. I know this is a luxury to go and try to make an impact. But if you think you can make the most impact by doing something big and taking a stand in a grassroots movement, then now is the moment."
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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