Update: this story was primarily written before the Holmes verdict was delivered. What’s written below stands.
As of this writing, we have no idea how the Elizabeth Holmes trial will end. (Nor do we know just yet when it will end.)
I’m not qualified, nor interested, in forecasting the outcome of the trial. Instead, I want to ask a question that I’m not seeing enough people discussing: if Holmes is on trial for defrauding investors about her service, why isn’t that the case for virtually every operation in Silicon Valley?
The question in Holmes’ trial, lest we forget, is whether she deliberately misled investors. There are other questions wrapped up, but the essential question is as simple and uncomplicated as this: Did Elizabeth Holmes knowingly misinform her investors, and cause harm through such misinformation?
Eerily enough, nothing in that sentence sounds like it’d be out of place in describing the moral quandaries surrounding, say, Facebook. (Did Mark Zuckerberg knowingly misinform his investors, and cause harm through such misinformation? ) Or Uber. (Did Travis Kalanick?) Or WeWork. (Did Adam Neumann? I’ll make this easy: yes, yes and yes — allegedly, of course.)
It would be easy enough to ascribe the difference here to mere sexism and walk away. Sure, there’s undoubtedly some ways in which Holmes has been easier to scapegoat in public opinion because she’s a woman. But it’s not like she’s the most hated of the silicon valley tycoons — not even close. (It also wouldn’t be the first time we saw a woman tech titan — one who worked hand-in-hand with Mark Zuckerberg no less — go from truly glowing press coverage to pariah only once a scandal had been unveiled.) Besides, a feminism focused on defending the 1% of the 1% just because they happen to be women isn’t my kind of feminism.
This isn’t merely a PR question. After all, Mark Zuckerberg is so universally despised that it’s hard to even compare him to a Holmes-like figure: Zuckerberg’s approval numbers have been underwater for multiple years now, regularly coming in for abuse from every sector of media of every ideological stripe. He’s the most reviled man in tech, offers Vanity Fair; an enemy of the state, opines legendary PBS documentarian…