CEO's post about homeless in SF highlights tech PR problem

It has not been a good week for the tech industry’s image in San Francisco.

Amid growing worries about rent increases and the cost of living here, which many blame on well-off tech workers, the brand needs a PR strategy, say industry leaders and others.

“The tech industry is a vital part of San Francisco and the Bay Area … but from an image/credibility standpoint, it’s really suffering right now,” said Sam Singer, who heads public relations firm Singer Associates.

Some in the industry agree with that assessment.

San Francisco native Kane Russell, a marketer for the startup Waterfall who makes $100,000 a year, said the industry needs a better image.

“Elitism,” said the 31-year-old, is something the tech community “should focus on addressing.”

Two incidents this week have fed the seething anger against what many see as the main source of San Francisco’s wealth-driven woes: tech workers.

The first incident — an imposter Google employee yelling at people protesting one of the company’s shuttle buses — revealed what many thought was the real face of tech: snobbish, elitist and entitled. But it turned out to be a straw man caricature.

However, the second incident — a tech CEO’s Facebook post about homeless and poor people in The City — did confirm to many how snobbish, entitled and elitist some in the industry can be.

No matter which image best characterizes techies, the prospect of a backlash against the industry has everyone from builders and politicians worrying about what to do next. Even tech-boosting Mayor Ed Lee has changed his tune as of late, proposing a hefty hike to The City’s minimum wage to counter the effects of cost-of-living increases.

The first incident — a video from the San Francisco Bay Guardian showing a staged tirade by a make-believe Google employee — briefly lit up the Web on Monday with what seemed the true rotten heart of all tech workers. A group of protesters blocking a Google shuttle bus in the Mission district because the company isn’t paying for access to municipal bus stops was harangued by someone who claimed to be a Google employee.

“I can pay my rent. Can you pay your rent? Well then, you know what, why don’t you go to a city where you can afford it. This is a city for the right people who can afford it. If you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave,” said the presumed Google employee.

It turned out that he was Max Bell Alper, an East Bay activist and union organizer who staged the whole thing.

While the subsequent reaction was swift and condemning, the all-to-real act seemed to tap into a current of anger.

Then on Wednesday, the real thing came along in the form of Greg Gopman, the founder of hackathon organizer AngelHack. Gopman on Tuesday posted on Facebook his assessment of the down-on-their-luck population of Market Street, and Valleywag was able to publish it before he removed it from his page.

“There is nothing more grotesque than walking down market st in SF. Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue. Each time I pass it my love affair with SF dies a little,” wrote Gopman. “The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to them selves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay.”

Gopman did issue an apology Wednesday, which elicited the support of some of his Facebook friends. Their comments seemed to echo his original sentiment, indicating that such opinions are likely widespread.

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