The Company That Knows Everything About You Is Now Punishing Thoughtcrimes

| AUG 8, 2017 | 6:10 PM

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Google cut itself on its own sharp sword of woke-ness Tuesday morning.

The company that controls an enormous portion of the internet's data and search, and that prides itself on being a tolerance beacon, fired one of its more diverse employees for expressing his opinion among his coworkers.

The company, which is worth $498 billion and employs more than 60,000 people worldwide, was not big enough in the end for the triggering perspective of a single engineer. For a company with coffers swollen enough to hire a full-time vice president of diversity, the move seems daft.

More from Bloomberg:

Alphabet Inc.'s Google has fired an employee who wrote an internal memo blasting the web company's diversity policies, creating a firestorm across Silicon Valley.

James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the note, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” He said he's “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.”

Damore's 10-page memorandum accused Google of silencing conservative political opinions and argued that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions. It circulated widely inside the company and became public over the weekend, causing a furor that amplified the pressure on Google executives to take a more definitive stand.

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James Damore's 10-page memo is littered with points of controversy.

It is a triggering document in the purest sense of the word.

Sweeping arguments based on gender biology are made, but so are arguments over the dangers and hypocrisy of political groupthink inside very wealthy, progressive companies.

The Catch-22 here is that Google, which states that it values all forms of diversity — political, lifestyle, gender, sexuality, and otherwise — was faced with one of its own exercising his stated right to diversity. It just so happens that his opinion did not align with the progressive worldview consistently voiced inside young tech firms.

So what does Google do when presented with an opportunity to show real tolerance for others' opinions?

It fires the person.

Setting aside the controversial context of the memo, let's look at the legalities of the firing itself. CNBC says that there are legal statutes that protect an employee from being discriminated against based on starting a conversation about company policies:

First, federal labor law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions. The purpose of the memo was to persuade Google to abandon certain diversity-related practices the engineer found objectionable and to convince co-workers to join his cause, or at least discuss the points he raised. [...]

Second, the engineer's memo largely is a statement of his political views as they apply to workplace policies. The memo is styled as a lament to "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action. [...]

Third, the engineer complained in parts of his memo about company policies that he believes violate employment discrimination laws. Those policies include support programs limited by race or gender and promotional and hiring scoring policies that consider race and gender. It is unlawful for an employer to discipline an employee for challenging conduct that the employee reasonably believed to be discriminatory, even when a court later determines the conduct was not actually prohibited by the discrimination laws. In other words, the engineer doesn't have to be right that some of Google's diversity initiatives are unlawful, only that he reasonably believes that they are.

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So the matter really becomes one of precedent. What are the boundaries of opinion one can hold at Google, or anywhere for that matter, that will not get you fired? The slope gets slippery here.

The entire episode is a practice in confirmation bias.

Were you to distill down the writer's 10-page memo, you would find a document that condemns the culture of groupthink and corporate political correctness and that asks for a more common-sense approach to dealing with human diversity.

By lopping off the head of the person who dared express this worldview, even if that worldview was offensive to others, Google willfully proved the engineer's point: namely that the company itself is using the diversity card as a straw man and that it does not engage in the practice of true tolerance, which can be defined as acceptance of others' opinions, even when you disagree with them.

The executives at Google fell on a PC sword of their own making. And now, the social justice movement has yet another scalp to sacrifice on the altar of political correctness. The casualties atop this sword are growing by the day.

A rational person can't help but be sympathetic to the corner Google back itself into. This episode was a lose-lose.

The options were to keep the engineer on staff and incur the mob rage of social justice warriors outside and inside your company, or fire him and prove that your company was not as diverse as it proudly claims to be.

Google chose to just eliminate the person with the problematic worldview instead of taking steps to understand that worldview and perhaps create a dialogue of understanding between employees.

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This is the ultimate dog whistle for those, particularly on the political right, who experience regular and systematic intellectual discrimination of their worldviews. It serves as confirmation bias to those already wary about their opinions being depressed by algorithms because of the narrow political perspectives of those to control those algorithms.

The precedent is further problematic inside the greater tech and free information universe, of which Google holds the keys. It seems a dangerous proposition for a company that controls the history of the internet, and specifically your history, to be engaging in the punishment of thought crimes within its own workforce.

Google is a platform that encourages its users to share and discover a diversity of opinions. Therefore, punishing a member of its own staff who chooses to do so smacks of hypocrisy.

For a company such as Google, which has access to the opinions of billions online, dabbling in the propagation of groupspeak and groupthink is a dangerous precedent.

“1984” anyone?

Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.