Author- Vladimir Zark
On Monday, August 7th, James Damore was fired from Google for certain ‘distasteful’ things that he wrote in a publicly available memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”. His complaint focuses particularly on the political bias Google expresses, and I quote, “has equated the freedom of offense with psychological safety” and “has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed”. These issues present a grave concern for free speech at Google and YouTube. I’ll provide the link to it at the bottom.
Damore’s rational dissemination of the idea that “on average, men and women biologically differ in many ways” was one of the key reasons for his being fired. Apparently, sources say that Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, had canceled his vacation to address the so-called ‘firestorm’ that resulted from this comment. It is notable that Damore had held his position as a Google computer engineer for 3½ years, and had prior education at schools like Princeton, Harvard, and MIT. Apparently, the memo was released not long after Danielle Mastrangel Brown was hired in June – she was hired to work as a vice president and “chief diversity and inclusion officer” in order to help improve Google’s hiring success with women and minorities. Tomorrow, Mr. Pichai will have a meeting to talk about what happened, claiming that Mr. Damore’s memo was “advancing harmful gender stereotypes”.
In light of this event, Damore has filed a complaint against Google for ‘coercive statements’, which includes threats. On Tuesday, Julian Assange from Wikileaks offered Damore a job, claiming that “censorship is for losers”. He also said that “women and men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back”. And apparently, this isn’t the first case of Google dealing with such problems: earlier in the year, the U.S. Department of Labor had filed a lawsuit against Google and requested to see if it was following ‘equal employment laws’. A great time to be Google, I’m sure.
Clearly, Mr. Damore’s point about the differences between men and women not being “just socially constructed” can be framed as controversial, but by no means should it warrant such unprofessional behavior from Google. He had not, after all, made any claims about what these differences result in – his only claim was that they “may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership”, which he used to address Google’s concern with diversity and rebut their argument that it was due to implicit and explicit biases. The problem is that Google’s agenda to “achieve a more equal gender and race representation”, as Damore says, “has created several discriminatory practices”, most of which revolve around preferential treatment for people of a particular gender or race. Damore latches onto a very fair point: Google’s leftist bias interferes with its impartiality with regards to race and gender, and is likely motivated by the fact that “the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left (about 95%)”. Damore blames confirmation bias.
The fact of the matter is that whether or not you agree with Damore’s opinion, the potential damage to online free speech cannot be denied. Our right to speak is our right to express ourselves in accordance with the first amendment right, and what Damore said, though viewed by some as an unreasonable and uncivilized opinion, is within his right to express in any setting. Though Google, being a private company, reserves the right to fire anyone on such grounds, it’s clear that their decision was not ideal. Google had even allegedly accepted that “much of what was in the memo was fair to debate”. Even Mr. Pichai had admitted that the points in the memo “are important topics”. So what is the aftermath of this? Will we see a backlash against sites like Google and YouTube, or will there be complete suppression of dissenting opinions in these companies?