Exhuming McCarthy: Corporate Social Justice And The Google Memo Saga

Google diversity memo - free speech - social justice

A software engineer at Google published an internal memo questioning the current diversity strategy and warning that the company was becoming an ideological echo chamber where dissenters felt intimidated about expressing their views. Google immediately validated these concerns by firing him.

One wonders exactly what Google would have to do before senior executives at the company are forced to admit that their corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil”, is little more than a bitter joke.

The company has been in the headlines the past few days thanks to a “scandal” precipitated when software engineer James Damore published an internal memo questioning Google’s approach to diversity in the workplace.

Entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, the memo alleges that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership”, before pointing out that a free discussion cannot take place because:

“when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.”

The memo goes on to consider various non-bias related causes of the gender gap in tech. At all times, James Damore is at pains to emphasise that he is not suggesting that all men or all women share the various traits under discussion, merely that there are indisputably different distributions of preferences and abilities between men and women which might account for some or all of the gender representation gap in the industry. Damore emphasises that “many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions”.

Damore then goes on to propose a number of potential ways to reduce the gender representation gap without relying on methods that could be described as affirmative action, including a genuine embracing of part-time work, rewarding cooperative as well as competitive behaviour and striving to make it more socially acceptable for men to free themselves from expectations of the male gender role:

Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles.

Read the whole memo here – it is only ten pages in length, and quite unlike the monstrous manifesto that it has been portrayed as by a hopelessly biased media.

As it happens, I agree with some of Damore’s premises but not his conclusion. I was swayed partly by this article by Josh Barro in Business Insider, which posits that if there are indeed natural gender imbalances in tech because of differences in aptitude and interest, it still behoves corporations to guard against the possibility that hiring managers, expecting that women will be less suited for certain roles, then subconsciously discriminate against female candidates.

Barro explains how this phenomenon might manifest itself:

  • A widespread assumption that “most” of the good job candidates will be men may lead to stereotyping in the hiring process, with hiring managers more likely to assume that men are good candidates and overlook qualified women.

  • Women may self-select out of the field because they internalize the stereotype that it is “for men,” and the stereotype may also make men overconfident in their fitness for the field and more inclined to pursue employment in it.

  • A male majority in the field is likely to be excessively self-reinforcing, as research shows that hiring managers tend to use the qualitative and “culture fit” aspects of hiring to hire candidates who resemble themselves, and most of the hiring managers in a male-dominated field will be men.

  • As seen in several high-profile cases in Silicon Valley, male-dominated management structures may foster cultures of pervasive workplace sexism and harassment that drive women out of the field.

Barro goes on to explain:

The memo misses this entirely, jumping from a claim that gender differences in interests and aptitude “may in part explain” the strong male skew in Google’s engineering groups to a conclusion that specific efforts at Google to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minority candidates are counterproductive and should be ended.

For example, the author complains about “hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.” That is, he’s upset that women candidates get a second look when men don’t.

But this is something you would absolutely want to do to prevent a phenomenon described above: hiring-manager biases and stereotypes leading to a lopsidedness by gender in hiring that exceeds the actual lopsidedness by gender in the qualified candidate pool. It makes sense to be extra certain that women who got screened out were rejected on the basis of qualifications and aptitude, not something else.

These are sound points, some of which I did not stop to fully appreciate when originally penning my response – I’m glad that I waited 24 hours and did some wider reading before hitting “publish” on this.

Of course, there was no such reflection and nuance to be found in the mainstream media, whose reporting might well leave you thinking that Damore had rewritten Mein Kampf for the 21st century and published a bitter screed attacking women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

CNN certainly took this hysterical approach:

“Aren’t biologically fit for tech jobs”? CNN should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant misrepresentation, if only they still had the capacity to feel shame. Of course, James Damore actually said no such thing. One can agree or disagree with the various premises and conclusions in the memo, but on the whole it was a thoughtful, measured and articulate reflection on a very topical issue. Rather than firing him, Google should have been proud to employ somebody who raised the issue respectfully with the aim of improving the company.

But apparently the memo has taken a grave psychological toll on Google’s “woke” and sensitive workforce. Now we hear that several female Google employees apparently failed to show up to work the following day because they were too distressed about the contents of the memo.

From NPR:

Another software engineer who used to work for Google, Kelly Ellis, says some women who still work at the company stayed home on Monday because the memo made them “uncomfortable going back to work.”

Seriously? What reason had they to feel uncomfortable? The memo was the creation of one employee – an employee who was publicly chastised by Google’s Head of Diversity, who hinted strongly that the memo “crossed the line” and violated the company’s code of conduct – and who was later fired from his job. It is hardly as though Google had suddenly been invaded by a swarm of alt-right campaigners or men’s rights activists. The corporation is overwhelmingly and publicly set against Damore’s position, to the extent that they excommunicated him for his beliefs.

The only person for whom Google proved to be a hostile work environment here is James Damore. And the only reason for any employee to stay home from work claiming distress was to parade their conspicuous victimhood and revel in their own (largely) imaginary oppression.

When I was eleven years old and in my first year of secondary school, I was queuing for the school tuck shop when some massive neanderthal of an inbred fifth-year kid shoved me out of the line and called me a nigger. And yet somehow I managed to board the school bus and show up to class on time the next day. And I was a child. Now these are intelligent, grown-ass women working for one of the most prestigious firms in the world, and we are supposed to believe that they are so fragile, so wounded by a MEMO of all things that they weren’t able to do their jobs. Again, I ask: are you for real?

This is why I say that social justice is a cancer on society. A cancer. Not just because it suppresses the free speech rights of ideological dissenters and creates a truly chilling atmosphere in which a significant portion of the population is cowed into sullen, fearful silence for fear of losing everything if they dare to express themselves reasonably and honestly. Not just because of that, but also because the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is turning fully grown adults with jobs, mortgages, credit cards and often kids of their own into little more than oversized, perpetually vulnerable babies. It poisons the body politic and fractures society into separate warring special interest or “victimhood” groups, all jostling for attention, sympathy and affirmative action. Social justice activism is corroding our society from within.

There is no good reason for anyone to be traumatised by the Google memo, even if they disagree with its contents. One can disagree with the either the premises or the conclusion of the memo’s main argument, but it should be possible to have a civil discussion without acting as though real physical or mental harm has been done by the mere expressing of an opinion.

Anybody smart enough to work at Google should be capable of articulating a response to the “offensive” memo if they disagree with it strongly enough. Moreover, they should actively welcome the opportunity to debate these ideas so as to win over more supporters. That’s how social causes have traditionally advanced themselves, often with great success and rapidity.

But now this is apparently too much of a burden. Now the regressive Left is unwilling to do the hard work of argument and persuasion, preferring instead to push the “fast forward” button and speed ahead to an imagined time when everybody agrees with their social justice dogma. And since this ideological consensus does not yet exist (and God willing never will), the Left must instead artificially enforce it by clamping down on contrary opinions and making dissenters feel so fearful that they simply cease to express themselves.

David French makes this very point in the National Review:

The primary victims of this new culture of groupthink are social conservatives and other dissenters from identity politics. In field after field and company after company, conservatives understand that the price of their employment is silence. Double standards abound, and companies intentionally try to keep work environments “safe” from disagreement. Radical sexual and racial politics are given free rein. Disagree — and lose your job.

It takes a person of rare constitution and moral courage to speak up. And that’s precisely how the far Left likes it. After all, what value is there in disagreement? They’ve figured out that elusive path to racial, gender, and sexual justice, and disagreement only distracts. It does worse than distract. It wounds.

But take heart, conservatives. It’s not all bleak. After all, the government is highly unlikely to persecute you for your speech. And if you want to succeed in cutting-edge businesses or enjoy equal opportunity in the academy, you do have one good option. You can shut your mouth.

You can shut your mouth. Which is precisely what the social justice brigade wants to happen – we have recently seen reports that various employees at Google are maintaining personal “blacklists” of other staff with whom they will refuse to work or consider for promotion because they have supposedly failed to publicly embrace the diversity agenda with sufficient enthusiasm.

One such boastful threat reads:

“While Google appears to be doing very little to quell the hostile voices that exists inside the company, I want those hostile voices to know:

I will never, ever hire hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don’t care if you are perfect fit of technically excellent or whatever

I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I’ll communicate why to your manager if it comes up.”

“You’re being blacklisted by people at companies outside of Google. You might not have been aware of this, but people know, people talk. There are always social consequences.”

And it’s not just Google. I logged in to LinkedIn the other day to check my notifications and was immediately barraged with tens of status updates from various connections working at a variety of large corporations, bragging about all of the amazing things that their firms are doing to celebrate Pride month. Now from a personal perspective I have no problem with that. But if I was a social conservative who takes seriously the responsibility to treat everybody with respect but feels unable to endorse certain social movements for religious reasons, I would be very nervous right now.

Why? Because more and more, employees are exhorted to make explicit their “allyship” of various designated identity groups, or otherwise endorse the aims of the broader social justice movement. We saw this in Britain last week with the National Trust furore, where volunteers were prohibited from serving in customer-facing roles unless they agreed to wear Pride ribbons (eventually the National Trust backed down under public pressure).

The bar has been moved. Mere tolerance is no longer sufficient – increasingly we must be seen to actively affirm and celebrate every lifestyle choice, gender identity or dubious fad which falls under the auspices of the social justice movement.

This is incredibly dangerous. The idea of our employers becoming auxiliary parents to us is as insidious as the idea that the state should play this role in our lives. In fact, the current moves by many corporations to enlist their employees as agents of social change on top of their day to day responsibilities is incredibly paternalistic, almost like something out of the early Industrial Revolution, when benevolent (or not so benevolent) industrialists housed their factory workers, provided for their basic welfare but also carefully regulated their leisure activities and social lives to uphold moral standards.

As I wrote yesterday:

Whereas a decade ago one could reliably find leftists railing against the power of corporations and the supposedly unfair, coercive power balance between employer and employee, now those very same leftists are screeching that big corporations are not doing enough to indoctrinate their employees with the new social justice dogma.

Of course, vesting corporations with such power is in fact highly dangerous and quite likely unconstitutional, particularly when lawsuits start to emerge where employees allege that their employer has pressured them to violate their own conscience when it comes to matters outside the workplace.

If this trend continues, we will soon reach a point where social conservatives, social justice agnostics and anybody else who fails to actively affirm progressive dogma becomes as unwelcome in the corporate world as those suspected of communist sympathies were in 1950s Hollywood. That is the direction in which we are headed.

The rejection of truth in favour of total ideological conformity. Groupthink, paranoia and blacklists. McCarthyism is being exhumed and reanimated before our eyes in the year 2017 – this time not by anti-communists, social conservatives or the religious right, but rather by the so-called progressive Left.

 

 

UPDATE: 9 August, 23:00 BST

Curiously, nobody ever seems to ask why the male to female ratio is so skewed in other professions such as steelworking, mining, forestry or construction, careers which are often less glamorous, more dangerous and entail greater physical labour. It is almost as though gender equality activists tacitly admit that there are in fact differences between men and women which make one or other gender better suited (though by no means exclusively drawn) to certain careers. And if we accept this in the case of physical labour, why not also with mental labour – other than the fact that to even ask the question is now considered heresy?

And why do we only care about diversity in high-status non-manual jobs? Could it possibly be because the world of social justice largely consists of a self-appointed priesthood of middle and upper-middle class people talking exclusively to one another about their First World Problems and busily confirming their own biases, while working class people are too busy trying to get by to worry about whether their employer is sufficiently nurturing of their chosen identity?

 

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EU’s Google Ruling Undermines Freedom Of Information

Google ECJ data ruling

The European Court of Justice, in another inspired ruling, has effectively declared that EU citizens have the right to request that Google delete undesirable search results which may portray them in a negative light.

With astonishing disregard for freedom of information and a troglodyte’s grasp of modern technology and its administration, the court held that there are certain circumstances when an individual may petition Google (and presumably other search engines) to delete links to various sites which contain information deemed false, obsolete or irrelevant.

Supporters of this backward and anti-democratic move might argue that Google search results function in a similar way to road signs, and that just as a city has a responsibility to remove road signs that point to closed routes or demolished visitor attractions, so a responsible search engine should prune its records to remove links to outdated information. And this neat analogy almost holds together.

Nearly, but not quite. The difference, of course, is that Google search results point to information on the internet that is still very much in existence and potentially of great importance. Forcing Google to remove search engine results is akin to a city deciding that a prominent building should be removed from local maps because it has fallen into disrepair and become an eyesore. The building remains, and it is in the interests of many people that its whereabouts remain public knowledge, whether or not it causes embarrassment for the city council or town planners.

Already a growing list of people with shady pasts are coming forward with petitions to Google, in the hope of wiping the digital slate clean of their past misdeeds, as the Telegraph reports:

Since it was introduced, more than 1,000 people have asked Google to remove links to unfavourable stories. They include a former MP seeking re-election, a man convicted of possessing child abuse images and 20 convicted criminals.

But more concerning than the granting people the ability to falsely curate the digital history of their lives for potentially nefarious purposes, the court’s decision places a human being at Google – or wherever the decision over which records should be removed is ultimately taken – in the role of moral arbiter of what information is still ‘accurate’ or ‘current’, and what information the public has a right to know. No human being or committee should be vested with such power, least of all one that hears petitions from people or institutions with overriding personal reasons to meddle with the perception of their past.

(Even the publication of false information, after all, becomes a matter of historical fact when it takes place, potentially an important one – such as cases of libel or political misstatement – which should be preserved for easy reference by future scholars, historians or lawyers.)

Furthermore, the court’s ruling shows complete and utter contempt for the ability of human beings to filter good information from bad, and accurate data from the misleading. Even if it were the case that erroneous information about a person’s criminal past or business dealings existed online, people are equipped with the mental faculties to check and verify the information before acting on it. The court’s opinion holds the human capacity to reason in such scant regard that it effectively decides it must be the job of someone – Google, the courts, the Truth Committee, anyone – to filter our reality before we observe it, lest we find ourselves being mislead.

Mark Weinstein forcefully sums up the argument against the ruling in the Huffington Post:

No company or entity should be able to build an online persona about us from the privacy of our actions and searches. Nor should anyone be able to erase legally documented history just because they find certain information unflattering. This is separate from the absolutely needed right to be able to remove my own personal posts or tagged photos of me posted by others.

One might expect that a ruling of this magnitude might prompt a response from the Prime Minister, but as is so often the case with matters of principle, David Cameron disappoints:

Asked by the Telegraph whether the ruling had any implications on freedom of speech, Mr Cameron replied: “I haven’t actually had a lot of time to look at this issue, so maybe I will have to get back to you on that.

“The basic principal that your information belongs to you is a good one, but I haven’t had a careful look at this, so I have to give you a considered answer another time.”

He added: “There you go – a politician who doesn’t know all the answers.”

It should not require many long nights spent poring over philosophical treatises and legal documents in order to form an opinion about the ECJ’s regressive ruling, but at least David Cameron is able to make a joke out of his total lack of conviction. For this blog, by contrast, the matter is quite clear-cut.

Our shared ideal of freedom and democracy requires as its aspiration (albeit never fully realised) the free and unfettered access to information on which to base our opinions and decisions. Establishing a precedent which says we cannot be trusted to distinguish current information from the obsolete, the relevant from the irrelevant, the true from the false, and setting up an intermediary system to do the job for us – which is what the European Court of Justice has so outrageously done – places the ECJ on the same morally repugnant ground as the internet censors of North Korea and the architects of the Great Firewall of China.

The people of Europe do not need the European Court of Justice, Google or anyone else to limit the scope of their information world. The justices wildly overstepped the mark, and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Note: The Guardian has a good explainer on the case which can be read here.

Is Microsoft Voluntarily Censoring The Internet?

There was once a debate about whether large Western multinational corporations – particularly the newly rising high tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook – should do business in countries such as China, where governments are openly hostile to the concept of free speech, a free media and unregulated access to information for their citizens.

That debate was settled some time ago, the winners being those who advocated expanding into China and then perhaps doing a little bit of agitating or talking up the virtues of freedom when time and decorum allowed. And though there has been precious little lobbying of the government in favour of free speech by those multinationals, the investment in China has, by and large, been a good thing.

Having long ago lost the argument that it is not their place to participate in Chinese government efforts to filter and censor the web when operating in China itself, everyone was bobbing along quite merrily in a morally dubious equilibrium, where the big tech companies would parade their wholesome, consumer-oriented credentials around in front of anyone who would listen or take down quotes, while also co-operating with Chinese censorship requirements and allowing the NSA ready back-door access to personal information held on their servers.

Enter Microsoft.

It is now believed that in addition to complying with the Chinese government’s demands that search engine query results originating from mainland China are filtered and censored, Microsoft’s also-ran search engine, Bing, has been applying those same censorship algorithms to searches in the Chinese language originating from anywhere on the planet. In other words, Microsoft, either in their zealousness to please the Chinese regime or out of sheer laziness and unwillingness to maintain two separate protocols, has apparently been applying Chinese-style censorship to internet searches not just where the Chinese government has geographical jurisdiction but anywhere in the world, whenever the user happens to be searching in Chinese.

chinese-authorities-force-businesses-to-help-censor-the-web-pg

The Telegraph reports:

According to research by Greatfire.org, an anti-censorship campaign blog, Microsoft’s Bing search engine filters Chinese-language results around the world, in the same way as it does in mainland China

Searches for potentially controversial terms such as “Dalai Lama” produce very different results when they are carried out in Chinese than they do in English, even if both searches are carried out on US soil, Greatfire said.

Its claims are likely to raise questions about whether Beijing is trying to extend its censorship regime to the Chinese populations of other countries, and whether Microsoft is making inappropriate concessions.

This is inappropriate to say the very least. The Chinese government’s policy of filtering the internet for its citizens so as to effectively pretend that certain viewpoints, ideologies or historical events are not real is bad enough, as is the fact that Western technology companies have complied with it in order to gain access to Chinese markets while demanding and extracting no concessions or easing of restrictions in exchange. But this allegation, if correct, suggests that corporate malfeasance has been taken to a much more worrying level.

One of the great advantages of globalisation and the free movement of people is that people from different countries can be exposed to different ideas, practices and ways of working. Even though the internet is restricted in mainland China, Chinese citizens could access the full, uncensored internet when traveling abroad, just as they could read the free press. In turn, exposure of Chinese citizens to new and contradictory ideas from outside could ultimately increase pressure on the government to relax their draconian policies.

Basing internet censorship on language rather than geography, as Microsoft appears to be doing, completely destroys this premise and removes the potential for this to happen. As the Telegraph rightly indicates, it would appear that Microsoft is aiding and abetting efforts by the Chinese government to extend their control over expatriate Chinese populations in other countries. In countries such as Britain this may merely be an odious and shameful act, but in other countries such as America, where the right to freedom of expression is constitutionally enshrined, a plausible legal argument could potentially be made that Microsoft is committing a First Amendment violation and breaking the law.

This revelation also contrasts Microsoft very negatively with Google, whose own search engine results for sensitive topics prime for Chinese censorship remain similar whether the search is conducted in English or Chinese, when outside of the Chinese mainland:

Users searching for “Dalai Lama” in Chinese were offered a link to information about a documentary produced by CCTV, the Chinese state-owned broadcaster, before any other search results of results linked to two entries on Baidu Baike, a heavily-censored online encyclopedia. Yahoo, whose search engine is powered by Bing, produced the same results.

By contrast, Google produces broadly similar results for web searches conducted in the US, regardless of whether the terms are searched for in Chinese or English.

But it is Greatfire, the online transparency and pressure group, who pose the ultimate question to Microsoft:

But whose law is dictating the manipulation of search results for Americans who are using Bing in the United States? Or French who are using Bing in France?

It is one thing to prostrate oneself to the laws and whims of a foreign government when negotiating terms to do business in that country. But if incompetence or monetary greed has led Microsoft to start applying Chinese censorship laws to citizens of other countries, then they have a big case to answer.

Where else are Chinese web censorship algorithms lurking?
Where else are Chinese web censorship algorithms lurking?

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, may only be one week into his tenure in the top job, but this is a potential crisis of image and trust that needs to  be nipped in the bud and resolved – yesterday.

Microsoft has gone silent in response to the allegations from Greatfire so far. When the firm eventually comes up with an official story and breaks the silence, it will be very interesting indeed to hear their excuses.

The Winter Olympics Begin

As the countdown to the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi nears its conclusion, Google marks the commencement of the Games:

googleolympics

A timely reminder of the Olympic values, at a time when the host country conspicuously fails to practice them when it comes to respecting and upholding the rights of its own citizens.

I was never in favour of the Olympics being awarded to Russia, especially at a time when that country’s tentative moves toward real democracy were being so rapidly undone and an authoritarian one-party government consolidated its power. Indeed, today’s Russia exhibits almost all of the characteristics that you would not want to see in a country hosting a major international event – corruption on a massive scale, dangerous levels of internal unrest, displacement of local people, oppression of minorities, lack of a free press, suppression of political dissent and the strangulation of democracy in every way.

But in mitigation, it should be remembered that in some very pertinent aspects, we are not so much more “advanced” or enlightened than the Russian state. Andrew Sullivan makes the excellent point that many people from the United Kingdom and United States who are so aghast at Russia’s controversial laws prohibiting “homosexual propaganda” overlook the fact that until quite recently, things were not so different back home:

At the same time, it seems to me we need to be careful not to misread the specific cultural context here. There’s a worrying tendency for some gay activists to assume that because a foreign country is not identical to the US on the question of gay rights, it’s an outrage that must be immediately confronted and changed. But America, only a decade ago, was not identical to the US today. Many states still have in their very constitutions the relegation of gay people to second class status. The last president of the US, George W Bush, wanted to enshrine the inferiority of gay couples in the federal constitution. It’s been only a few years since gays were able to serve openly in the US military. To turn around and then be shocked and appalled that homophobia is still very much alive and well in the Russian rural heartland is more than a little obtuse.

A fair point well made. Indeed, there are a number of British and American pundits and politicians, strident in their opposition to equal rights for gay people, who openly admire and praise the actions of the Russian government. And so I should reiterate that my antipathy is toward the authoritarian, corrupt President Putin and the culture that he has helped to create, and not toward the Russian people themselves.

I will watch the Sochi Olympics with interest, as I always do, and I hope that they are a wonderful sporting success, free from any of the feared violence or disruption. But you must excuse me for not joining in the celebration of the despot Vladimir Putin’s moment of triumph – the man does not deserve a victory lap on the world stage.