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 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 its efforts to increase gender and racial diversity, suggesting biological differences 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 the Damore’s departure from Google isn’t the end of this story. His memo and the action taken against him is being held up by many on the right as an example of alleged censorship and the purported dangers of “political correctness.”
A few examples: Breitbart, the far-right news site, is currently leading with the story, writing that “witch hunts are a well-known cultural problem” at Google and that “psychologicsts claim [the] manifesto [is] scientifically accurate.”
Ben Shaprio, editor-in-chief of 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, managing director of Thiel Capital — a VC fund established by Trump-supporting entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel — 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 has 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 led to mass harassment of multiple 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 memo — sharing news about it, and being highly critical of Google’s response. A campaign has been launched to crowdfund Damore’s legal expenses on WeSearchr, a crowdfunding site popular with the alt-right that was suspended from Twitter. It aims to bring in $60,000 (£46,000), and has raised a little over $2,300 (£1,760) so far.
“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 Peter 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.