Best columns: Business
Measuring Twitter’s worth
The New Yorker
“As a private company, Twitter might be seen as a great success,” said James Surowiecki. But as a public company, “it’s a perpetual disappointment.” Three years ago, the social network was a “market darling,” and for a short time had a market capitalization even larger than Facebook’s. But investors have since soured on Twitter, which has never made a profit and routinely misses earnings estimates. In recent weeks, Twitter has even been shopping itself to “deep-pocketed buyers,” including Disney, Microsoft, and Salesforce, only to see each of them walk away. From this angle, the social network’s future looks very much in doubt. “If you use, or even scan, Twitter, though, the service seems as strong, and as influential, as ever.” After a video emerged of Donald Trump bragging about groping women, for instance, hundreds of thousands of women tweeted their own stories of being assaulted, under the hashtag # notokay. It was an “extraordinary collective protest” that showed Twitter “at its best.” The problem is, for a public company, that kind of value is “irrelevant” if it can’t be translated into actual dollars and continuous growth. “The truth is that not every company needs to be—or should be—huge.” But try telling that to investors accustomed to using steep profit growth as the only benchmark for success.
Facebook’s Peter Thiel problem
The most contentious debate in Silicon Valley right now isn’t whom to support for president—it’s what to do about Peter Thiel, said Will Oremus. The billionaire co-founder of PayPal and an early Facebook investor, Thiel has always been an “oddball” among the tech elite for his extreme libertarian views. But for many in the Valley, Thiel’s enthusiastic backing of Donald Trump is a step too far. Facebook has been under pressure from some employees to oust Thiel from its board, and other firms have been pressured to cut ties with him. By associating with Thiel, the thinking goes, tech giants give their tacit approval to Trump’s racist and sexist rhetoric, which is especially galling given that tech boardrooms are overwhelmingly white and male. Thiel’s defenders, including Mark Zuckerberg, have responded “with an appeal to, of all things, diversity,” saying it is wrong to purge someone for his political beliefs. Both sides have valid points. Thiel’s position shouldn’t make him immune from criticism, and Silicon Valley’s immense wealth and political power mean its leaders’ values “matter deeply.” But there’s a difference between denouncing Thiel and pressuring everyone he works with to excommunicate him. In this extraordinary election, “calls to punish people who back the wrong presidential candidate should make us all a little queasy.”