The Dirty War over Diversity Inside Google

Nitasha Tiku, Wired, January 26, 2018

Fired Google engineer James Damore says he was vilified and harassed for questioning what he calls the company’s liberal political orthodoxy, particularly around the merits of diversity.

Now outspoken diversity advocates at Google say that they are being targeted by a small group of their coworkers in an effort to silence discussions about racial and gender diversity.

In interviews with WIRED, 15 current Google employees accuse coworkers of inciting outsiders to harass rank-and-file employees who are minority advocates, including queer and transgender employees. Since August, screenshots from Google’s internal discussion forums, including personal information, have been displayed on sites including Breitbart and Vox Popoli, a blog run by alt-right author Theodore Beale, who goes by the name Vox Day. Other screenshots were included in a 161-page lawsuit that Damore filed in January, alleging that Google discriminates against whites, males, and conservatives.

What followed, the employees say, was a wave of harassment. On forums like 4chan, members linked advocates’ names with their social-media accounts. At least three employees had their phone numbers, addresses, and deadnames (a transgender person’s name prior to transitioning) exposed. {snip}

Meanwhile, inside Google, the diversity advocates say some employees have “weaponized human resources” by goading them into inflammatory statements, which are then captured and reported to HR for violating Google’s mores around civility or for offending white men.

Engineer Colin McMillen says the tactics have unnerved diversity advocates and chilled internal discussion. “Now it’s like basically anything you say about yourself may end up getting leaked to score political points in a lawsuit,” he says. “I have to be very careful about choosing my words because of the low-grade threat of doxing. But let’s face it, I’m not visibly queer or trans or non-white and a lot of these people are keying off their own white supremacy.”

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The complaints underscore how Google’s freewheeling workplace culture, where employees are encouraged to “bring your whole self to work” and exchange views on internal discussion boards, has turned as polarized and toxic as the national political debate.

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The politicized tension inside Google echoes the challenge that Silicon Valley tech giants face moderating divisive content on their social-media platforms. Tech companies sold themselves as open and neutral forces for good, espousing free expression both on their corporate campuses and on the internet. But critics say that too often, the social-media sites have become hotbeds of hate speech.

Some anger from the alt-right is now aimed at the tech companies themselves. After Damore’s memo became public in August, a Breitbart headline screamed, “Google’s Social Justice Warriors Create Wrongthink Blacklists.” Earlier this month, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas posted surreptitious video of Twitter employees discussing the company’s moderation policies.

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The combatants represent just a sliver of Google’s more than 75,000 employees. Executives seem to want everyone to get back to work, rather than be forced into the awkward position of refereeing a culture war. “Just like they’re reporting me, I’m reporting them as well,” says Alon Altman, a senior engineer and diversity advocate. After Damore’s memo was disclosed in August, Altman says the complaints from both sides amounted to “a denial-of-service attack on human resources.”

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One flashpoint is Google’s training for employees about sexual, racial, and ethnic diversity. In his memo, Damore said the programs “are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.” But one black woman employee offers an opposing complaint. She says the programs lack context about discrimination and inequality and focus on interpersonal relationships, instructing employees to watch what they say because it might hurt someone’s feelings. “It robs Google of the chance to discuss these issues,” and leaves criticisms unanswered, she says. She says co-workers and her manager have described diversity as “just another box to check and a waste of time.”

Zunger, the former employee, says Google managers often are put in an impossible position while trying to resolve disputes. As a consequence, sometimes managers tried to restore calm by telling everyone to knock it off. {snip}

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Some employees see similarities between some of the behavior inside Google and alt-right manuals for fighting advocates for social justice, such as one written by Beale that instructs readers to “Document their every word and action,” “Undermine them, sabotage them, and discredit them,” and “Make the rubble bounce” on your way out the door.

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