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Google has fired an employee who wrote an internal memo attacking the company’s diversity policies – a move that has instantly turned the author into a hero of the right and that threatens to ignite a Silicon Valley culture war.
On Friday, Motherboard broke the news that a memo written by a Google employee had gone internally viral at the California-headquartered tech giant.
The memo argued that Google should focus on “ideological diversity” and criticised the company’s efforts to increase gender and racial diversity, suggesting biological differences between men and women may be the reason for disparities in hiring in the tech industry.
“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” the author wrote. (You can read the full memo here.)
The author, James Damore, was subsequently fired, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai weighed in, writing in a memo to employees, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
But Damore’s departure from Google isn’t the end of this story. The action taken against him is being held up by many on the right as an example of censorship and the purported dangers of “political correctness.”
Breitbart, the far-right news site, on Tuesday led its website with a story about the situation. The article quoted an anonymous Google employee as saying “witch hunts are a well-known cultural problem” at Google.
Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, tweeted, “‘Diversity is our strength’ is Orwellian claptrap coming from people who can’t handle a memo that says women and men are different.”
"Diversity is our strength" is Orwellian claptrap coming from people who can't handle a memo that says women and men are different.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) August 8, 2017
And some in Silicon Valley have also criticised Google. Eric Weinstein, the managing director of Thiel Capital – a venture-capital fund established by the entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, a supporter of President Donald Trump – tweeted:
Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR.
Thx in advance,
— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2017
The episode and the reaction to it have echoes of the Gamergate controversy. It was a culture war over the role of progressivism, feminism, and cultural criticism in video games and sexism within gaming culture, and it led to mass harassment of prominent women in the industry.
Communities that supported Gamergate, like the subreddit r/KotakuInAction, are now coming out in support of the author of the Google memo – sharing news about it and being highly critical of Google’s response. A campaign has been launched to fund Damore’s legal expenses on WeSearchr, a crowdfunding site popular with the alt-right that was suspended from Twitter; Reuters reported late Monday night that Damore was considering legal action because of his firing. The campaign aims to bring in $60,000 (£46,000) and has raised a little over $2,300 (£1,760).
“The radical Left has been whipping up hate mobs to get independents, libertarians, conservatives, and simple contrarians publicly shamed, bullied, and fired from their jobs for years,” it wrote. “Now they’re attacking a man for honestly, wisely, and politely expressing his opinions to his colleagues. And they’ve gotten him fired.”
And Google’s new vice president of diversity, Danielle Brown, has locked her Twitter account after being targeted with sexist and racist abuse over the incident – despite some supporters of Google’s actions arguing that Brown’s response was too mild.
Silicon Valley is, by and large, highly liberal – but there are some discontents, like Thiel. And it’s notable that there are plenty of people defending Damore on sites like Hacker News, a forum frequented by Silicon Valley engineers.
The memo has the potential to expose ideological fault lines in Silicon Valley – and combined with the online right’s determination to use it and Google’s response as a rallying cry to attack progressive politics, it means the fallout from this may be felt for some time to come.