Politics and the Internet. Like oil and water they do not mix well, and that is just under normal circumstances. With campaigning in an extremely polarising and increasingly volatile American Presidential election well underway. The result has already been labeled by politicians and pundits as divisive, with both Republican and Democratic candidates taking very different approaches as the march towards Election Day on Tuesday, November 8 2016 goes on.
But whilst politics and the internet do not mix well, it is still a battlefield for canvasing, generating support and running down both opposition candidates and supporters. From social media platforms like Twitter, to message boards and advertisements.
It is certainly not unusual for businessmen and women to become involved in the campaign process, and throw their weight, monetary or otherwise behind a candidate. As such the news that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was such a supporter would not necessarily be newsworthy in any ‘normal’ election. However, how Luckey has been supporting his chosen candidate is anything but usual and the result, combined with comments he has made on Reddit under an alias is already causing a major division between him and parts of the virtual reality (VR) dev and tech community as well as a major public relations headache for Oculus themselves.
As revealed by The Daily Beast it seems that Luckey has been financially backing Nimble America; a non-profit group operating on Reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit and designed to generate so called internet “shitposting” content, such as memes. All to spread pro-Donald Trump/anti-Hillary Clinton messaging as widely as possible. It’s a group that hasn’t had the cleanest of records and that also has some interesting board rules on what is acceptable when discussing Trump, including “No Dissenters or SJWs”.
It seems that through the account ‘NimbleRichMan’, Luckey not only donated “significant funds” to the cause but as confirmed in a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread – partly made, it appears, to address concerns some Trump supporters had about their mysterious benefactor. NimbleRichMan had pledged to match donations by, among other things, “flying my jet a minute less”.
— Cody Brown (@CodyBrown) September 23, 2016
Additional messages posted by the now deleted account include one relating to the secrecy of his actions. That there was an inherent risk in speaking out in favour of the Trump campaign.
“Where are all the wealthy, powerful, and publically identifiable Trump supports?[sic] We dare not say a word. It would destroy us. I would never dream of blacklisting a business for the political views of the men who work there but the same cannot be said for many HRC supporters.”
The full selection of posts from the NimbleRichMan account are available here.
Again, whilst Mr. Luckey is perfectly at liberty to spend his money however and support politically whoever he so likes, as you might imagine, supporting such a polarising figure as Donald Trump (and particularly in such a fashion) has led to a wave of mostly negative reactions on social media. It has resulted in some enthusiasts and figures in the generally liberal-leaning technology sector to reevaluate their opinions of one of VR’s figureheads. And, by extension, their association with Oculus as a whole as Luckey’s money is seen to be that of Oculus.
— Brian Hart (@VR_BHart) September 23, 2016
Oh wow, I thought the pro-Trump Palmer Luckey story was satire the first time I read it. Just realized it's true.
— Min-Liang Tan (@minliangtan) September 23, 2016
Imagine being Muslim, black, brown, gay, transgender, and seeing those with everything using their wealth to close doors to you. https://t.co/FxtTI78jRW
— Bruce Wright (@heybrucewright) September 23, 2016
It's important to remember that Palmer's views don't reflect those of Oculus as a whole nor do they invalidate all their great work.
— Liz Edwards (@lizaledwards) September 23, 2016
"VR is an empathy machine!!!"
— Jim Toepel (@jimtoepel) September 23, 2016
remember how we looked forward to the old conservative billionaires dying off and being replaced with compassionate millennial billionaires
— Bennett (@bfod) September 23, 2016
— Tomorrow Today Labs (@TTLabsVR) September 23, 2016
Meanwhile, E McNeill creator of cyberpunk hacking title Darknet has sought a more direct way to counter Luckey’s actions. Calling upon like-minded Oculus developers to join him in donating towards the Democrat campaign in order to redress the balance of the up to $11,000 (USD) it is believed Luckey donated to Nimble America. E McNeill donating $1000 (USD) himself.
— E McNeill (@E_McNeill) September 23, 2016
It is unclear what, if anything Oculus will do with regard to the story and Luckey has made no additional comments at this time. There was some speculation stemming from the initial The Daily Beast article that Luckey was no longer with the company. Oculus later confirmed to The Verge that this was not the case.
VRFocus will bring you more information as this story develops. If you’re a VR dev who wishes to make a statement in reaction to this morning’s Luckey/Trump news story please email: firstname.lastname@example.org