Analysis Two high-profile tech CEOs – Apple's Tim Cook and Salesforce's Mark Benioff – have publicly criticized a new Indiana law that legalizes discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Cook tweeted earlier today: "Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228." So far it's been retweeted over 2,000 times.
Likewise, Benioff tweeted his opposition yesterday but also made an explicit economic threat as a result of the law: "Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination," he said, linking to a news story on the law.
Benioff subsequently gave an interview in which he threatened a "slow rolling of economic sanctions" if the law remains. "We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation," he told Re/Code.
The law itself, which was signed into law by Indiana governor Mike Pence on Thursday, allows businesses to turn away customers if they feel the customers' sexual orientation runs contrary to their religious beliefs. The bill was promoted as an issue of religious freedom.
No, I won't sell you gentlemen my flowers
The touch-point examples that have been put forward by conservative lawmakers in favor of the law include florists, photographers, and others who may not wish to serve gay weddings; and business owners concerned about transgender people using their preferred gender toilets.
What conservatives see as an issue of religious freedom however, many others – including large corporations – see as prejudice and intolerance. The issue has come to a head thanks to Supreme Court rulings that have overridden and overturned legislation aimed at banning gay marriage, and also extended federal benefits to same-sex couples as a direct result.
While no longer able to prevent same-sex couples from getting married, some state legislatures have decided they should limit any potential impact of the decision on their constituents' lives.
A similar bill was defeated in Arizona last month when governor Jan Brewer refused to sign it into law following a campaign from large corporations including Delta Air Lines, Intel, AT&T, the Super Bowl host committee, and Major League Baseball.
Apple was also opposed to that effort. It sent a letter to Brewer urging her to veto the bill and threatening to withdraw from a "global data command center" it is building in the state – a move that's expected to create hundreds of jobs.
While many would agree with the stance taken by the corporations – which in Arizona's case, at least, had a direct impact – the decision by corporations and their chief executives to directly involve themselves in social issues, even publicly threatening economic sanctions if their views do not result in immediate action, is an unusual turn of events.
And while corporations have always had a largely behind-the-scenes impact on the political process, especially if it impacts their business interests, the arrival of tech CEOs publicly and individually criticizing the political process is a recent trend.
So why do we care what tech CEOs think about social issues? Maybe we don't care, but simply can't avoid their highly publicized responses – and therefore mistake ubiquity with importance.
Even if you don't follow Tim Cook on Twitter, when his message gets retweeted thousands of times, chances are that someone you are following will push his message in front of you. That snowball effect magnifies the thoughts of well-known individuals far beyond their normal sphere of influence.