The Dirty War Over Diversity Inside Google

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 attempt to silence deliberations about racial and gender diversity.

In interviews with WIRED, 15 current Google employees accuse coworkers of inciting strangers to harass rank-and-file employees who are minority proponents, including fag and transgender employees. Since August, screenshots from Google’s internal deliberation meetings, including personal information, ought to have displayed on websites including Breitbart and Vox Popoli, a blog run by alt-right writer Theodore Beale, who goes by the epithet Vox Day. Other screenshots were included in a 161 -page suit that Damore filed in January, to suggest that Google discriminates against whites, males, and conservatives.

What followed, the employees say, was a wave of harassment. On meetings like 4chan, members associated advocates’ epithets with their social-media accounts. At least three employees had their phone number, address, and deadnames( a transgender person’s name prior to transitioning) disclosed. Google site reliability technologist Liz Fong-Jones, a trans woman, says she was the target of harassment, including violent menaces and degrading slurs based on gender identity, race, and sexual direction. More than a dozen pages of personal information about another employee were posted to Kiwi Farms, which New York has called “the web’s biggest community of stalkers.”

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 fazed diversity advocates and chilled internal deliberation. “Now it’s like basically anything you say about yourself may end up getting leaked to score political phases in a lawsuit, ” he says. “I have to be very careful about picking my terms 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.”

Targeted employees say they have complained to Google executives about the harassment. They say Google’s security team is vigilant about physical threats and that Danielle Brown, Google’s chief diversity and inclusion policeman, who has also been targeted by harassers, has been supportive and reassuring. But, they say they have not been told the outcome of complaints they filed against coworkers they believe are harassing them, and that top executives have not answered assertively to concerns about harassment and doxing. As a ensue, some employees now check detest sites for strives at doxing Google employees, which they then report to Google security.

Google declined to respond to questions due to ongoing litigation, but a Google spokesperson said the company has met with every employee who expressed concern.

The objections accentuate 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.

Aneeta Rattan, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the London School of Business, says organizations such as Google that want to foster an open environ have to establish norms and rules of participation around difficult conversations. “They don’t want to have a giant listing of things you can’t say, ” but they should identify parameters, says Rattan, who has analyse racism in the workplace and the ability of groups of people to change their brains. “A lot of this is about stoking complex reckon, which intends everyone will leave somewhat unhappy, ” she says. “That is not something all organizations want to foster.”

The politicized tension inside Google echoes the challenge that Silicon Valley tech giant face moderating divisive content on their social-media platforms. Tech corporations sold themselves as open and neutral armies 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 loathe speech.

Some anger from the alt-right is now aimed at the tech corporations 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.

Yonatan Zunger, a high-ranking veteran engineer who left Google eight months ago, says the internal culture has become a textbook occurrence of the “paradox of tolerance, ” the notion that if a society is tolerant without limit, it will be seized upon by the intolerant.

The fighters represent only a sliver of Google’s more than 75,000 employees. Executives seem to want everyone to get back to operate, rather than be forced into the awkward post of refereeing a culture war. “Just like they’re reporting me, I’m reporting them as well, ” says Alon Altman, a senior technologist and diversity proponent. 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.”

Google is an important symbol in Silicon Valley’s struggles with diversity. Damore’s suit claims Google discriminates against whites, males, and reactionaries. At the same time, Google faces a Department of Labor investigation and a private suit from four former employees claiming that it discriminates against women in pay and publicity. The company was the first tech monster to release its diversity numbers in 2014, but has not built important progress since.

Diversity proponents say that by trying to stay neutral, Google is being exploited by instigators, who have disguised a targeted harassment campaign as conservative political thought.

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 gives an opposing grievance. 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 seems. “It robbed Google of the chance to discuss these issues, ” and leaves criticisms unanswered, she says. She says co-workers and her manager have already mentioned diversity as “just another container to check and a waste of time.”

Zunger, the former employee, says Google administrators often are put in an impossible point while trying to resolve disputes. As a repercussion, sometimes managers tried to restore tranquilizes by telling everybody is knock it off. Zunger says this was well-intentioned, but ultimately counterproductive. “Once an awareness of disdain is present in the chamber , not talking about it doesn’t make it go away, ” he said.

Until her name and face presented up on a website run by Beale, the right-wing provocateur also known as Vox Day, Fong-Jones says she did not appreciate what she was up against. Like many diversity advocates, Fong-Jones serves as an informal liaison between under-represented national minorities and management as an unpaid second shift. Over the past few years, she learned to keep a close eye on dialogues about diversity issues. It began subtly. Coworkers peppered mailing lists and corporation town halls with questions: What about meritocracy? Isn’t improving diversity lowering the bar? What about standpoint diversity? Doesn’t this exclude white men?

Fong-Jones initially assumed that the pushback stemmed from genuine panic or concern. But that changed in August when Damore’s memo, underlining the fact that females are less biologically predisposed to become engineers and leaders, went viral. On Google’s internal communications channels, employees debated Damore’s arguments.

Beale written leaked snippets of a dialogue between Fong-Jones and a colleague, where Fong-Jones argued that Damore should not have been allowed to publish his memoranda on an internal Google site. That fired up Beale. “Google’s SJWs[ social-justice warriors] are starting to get nervous as evidence of their internal thought-policing have started to leak out into the public, ” Beale wrote. “And never forget, they genuinely believe that they are better-educated, as well as our moral and intellectual superiors, because Google merely hires the smartest, best-educated people, right? ”

Fong-Jones is used to being harassed online. But she was quickly flooded with direct messages on Twitter containing violent menaces and degrading and transphobic slurs based on gender identity, race, and sexual direction. One commenter on Vox Popoli wrote that, “they should pitch all those sex freaks off of rooftops.”

That’s when it clicked: perhaps some of her coworkers’ questions had not been in good faith. “We didn’t realize that there was a unclean war going on, and weren’t well informed the tactics being used against us, ” she says. The stakes soon became clear. A few weeks later, alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos shared an image with his 2.5 million Facebook followers featuring the Twitter bios and profile pics of eight advocates at Google, many of them trans employees.

As the internal debate raged in the aftermath of Damore’s memo, McMillen says that he knows of at the least 10 coworkers who were called into HR for inducing political statements related to the document, with outcomes ranging from verbal advises to a reduced performance-review score. McMillen was told by HR not to do anything hiring or publicity referred for a year. Altman got a verbal alert for writing on an internal board that certain employees should be fired. “I signified only bigoted white men should be fired. They interpreted it as applying to all white humen, ” Altman says.

The roots of the tension go back times. Former Google engineer Cory Altheide told WIRED that he noticed racist and other hate-filled posts on Google discussion boards before he quit in 2015. In a memo he wrote after leaving the company and circulated this month, he pointed to a post on a blog run by a Google employee that said, “Blacks are not equivalent to that given to whites. Therefore the’ inequality’ between these races is expected and attains perfect sense.” WIRED was not able to confirm the identity of the employee.

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

Beale says they’re right. “I know that there are a number of people there who have read[ the guidebook ], I know that they’re employing it, ” Beale told WIRED. He claims to have had contacts inside the company for years and dozens of followers. He says he doesn’t know if Damore has read his guidebook, but is following the playbook. Damore says he has not read the manual.

The War Within

By including screenshots of internal-discussion boards in his suit, James Damore attempted to embarrass Google.

The science and analysis in Damore’s memo is at best politically naive and at the worst dangerous.

A lawsuit claiming Google systematically discriminates against women in pay and promotion could force the company to change hiring and promotion practices.

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