Google’s Outrage Mobs and Witch Hunts
Google has become a company where outrage mobs and witch hunts dominate its culture. These outrage mobs and witch hunts have become an existential threat not only to Google’s culture internally, but to Google’s trust and credibility externally.
Google has long claimed to be a nonpartisan company, yet like many other tech companies, they also maintain many policies against “hate speech”. How do we reconcile these two apparently conflicting goals? While this statement came from a spokesperson for Facebook, it could just as easily apply to Google, Twitter, and many other tech companies.
We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology.
An astute reader will notice that this response does not actually answer the question; it merely shifts it from one point to another. Instead of asking, “Is Google a nonpartisan company?” we instead ask, “Does Google apply a nonpartisan definition of hate speech?”¹
(As for Facebook, we now know that they have a list of “hate agents” that includes Candace Owens.)
So what exactly is the definition of hate speech? Well, let’s just ask the outrage mobs at Google that succeeded. One outrage mob formed when Google sponsored CPAC, and they created an internal petition titled, “Google, Don’t Sponsor Hate.” Another outrage mob formed when Kay Coles James, President of the Heritage Foundation, was appointed to an AI ethics panel, and they created an external petition from a Medium account called “Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate.”
But don’t worry, these outrage mobs are not opposed to all conservatives. They are only opposed to the “hateful” conservatives.
These outrage mobs against “hate” have become honeypots for toxic, hostile, and uncivil discourse. While some of their rhetoric is so outlandish that you have no choice but to laugh it, the psychological effects that these outrage mobs have on their targets is nothing to laugh about. Just read this excerpt from Kay Coles James about her own experience with Google’s outrage mob:
In 1961, at age 12, I was one of two-dozen black children who integrated an all-white junior high school in Richmond. White parents jeered me outside the school, and inside, their kids stuck me with pins, shoved me in the halls and pushed me down the stairs. So when the group of Google employees resorted to calling names and making false accusations because they didn’t want a conservative voice advising the company, the hostility was reminiscent of what I felt back then — that same intolerance for someone who was different from them.
I won’t lie, that was a tough part to read. But if you ask the outrage mob, that wasn’t the real problem. The real question was this:
So the real question to this is whether or not we think there’s value in having the Grand Wizard of the KKK on this board.
What sort of alternate universe do you have to live in to think this sort of rhetoric is OK? And what sort of alternative universe do you have to live in where you would turn a blind eye to that rhetoric?
As I explained in a previous post, these outrage mobs and witch hunts don’t just target outsiders like CPAC and Kay Coles James. They also target insiders and Google’s own employees. But whether the target is external or internal, the goal of these outrage mobs and witch hunts is the same: to control who belongs at Google.
More importantly, if you can control who belongs at Google, then you can also control what content belongs on Google.
If the people who work at Google — or who feel psychologically safe expressing their opinions at Google — are only the ones who think that CPAC and Kay Coles Jame are hateful, then don’t be surprised if, one day in the future, hate speech is used as a pretext to censor CPAC or Kay Coles James and remove their content from Google’s platforms.
In terms of controlling who belongs at Google, these outrage mobs and witch hunts have another tool at their disposal when they target an employee of Google: HR complaints. Few organizations have as much as power to control who belongs at Google as HR does, and if that power is abused, the consequences will be disastrous.
Standing up to an outrage mob or a witch hunt is hard enough when HR doesn’t get involved. It gets even harder when you start worrying about whether HR will discipline you, or even worse, when they actually do discipline you. A few months ago, the Lincoln Network released their 2019 Viewpoint Inclusion Survey Report, and one of the pull quotes from that survey directly captures this experience:
CONSERVATIVE — Employees will interpret your words in the most offensive way possible, then report you to HR based on that interpretation. It’s one big offendedness sweepstakes. When people get in trouble, it’s often based not on what they said, but on how others interpreted their words, regardless of how unreasonable that interpretation is. And there is some evidence HR does have a political agenda. I’ve even seen someone get reported to HR for sharing a National Review article.
One Google employee, who gave me permission to share his story, was once hauled into a meeting with management and HR over some of his writings on company message boards. He was not directly punished in that meeting, but the meeting did carry a strong implied threat of future punishment. Here was one of the issues that was mentioned to him in writing after that meeting:
One Googler raised a concern that you that you appeared to be promoting and defending Jordan Peterson’s comments about transgender pronouns, and this made them feel unsafe at work.
Allegedly, Google is a company that supports a freedom of expression, but Google is also a company where you can get in trouble with HR for defending Jordan Peterson’s stance that the government cannot compel speech, including compelling the usage of preferred pronouns.
I have heard other stories like this one, but for obvious reasons, most people don’t want to share these stories. Thus, the time has finally come for me to step forward and share my own story, especially on behalf of those who have stories of their own but do not yet feel ready to share them.
At Google, I have been the owner and the creator of the republicans@ mailing list. When I first created that mailing list back in October 2016, my humble ambition was to create a community for Republicans at Google and help make the company a little more friendlier for Republicans. It would suffice to say that my actual experience has thrust me into a much larger role than I could ever have imagined (a topic which I could spend an entire post on).
My role as the republicans@ owner has also made me a prime target for the outrage mobs and witch hunts. On March 6, 2019, I was pulled into a meeting of my own with my management and HR. During that meeting, I received a final written warning, and I received a verbal offer of 8 weeks of severance pay if I left the company. That verbal offer of severance was an implied threat of termination. While they never said it explicitly, it was clear that if I didn’t take that offer, they would invent some pretext to fire me shortly thereafter.
(Due to an unexpected series of events, this process was put on hold, but that would only delay the inevitable.)
So how do you deal with these outrage mobs and witch hunts?
I seem to be quite deft at navigating that sort of environment, and I seem to know more than most about these sorts of situation. In my senior year of college at Cornell University, I even played a leading role in successfully pushing back against an outrage mob that came dangerously close to kicking a Christian fellowship group off campus.² Yet even with all that expertise and experience, I must admit there are so many answers that I still don’t have.
Trivial or fabricated charges are a dime a dozen. You can definitively refute one charge,³ and you can modify your behavior to avoid another charge, but then a new trivial and fabricated charge will arise to take the place of the old one. On top of that, it is very easy to write these charges in a way where they will look credible to a neutral outsider who has no additional context, even though they would quickly crumble once you were provided the full context.
Thus, I’m not going to rebut every single charge that has been presented against me, but I will highlight a couple of allegations in depth, in order to expose this kangaroo court for the true monster that it is. The intent is not just to rebut individual charges, though I will do that as well. The intent is to demonstrate how the process for producing such charges is so fundamentally flawed and untrustworthy that it compromises the entire process.
So, let’s look at the first allegation that I will unveil:
2/9/2019, You received feedback on industry-info@ that your comments were “rude, disrespectful, and intellectually dishonest”
Now first of all, let me state with the utmost confidence that I believe Google HR has consistently enforced their standards against rude, disrespectful, and intellectually dishonest comments against everyone who has taken part in these various outrage mobs.
(In case you couldn’t tell, that was sarcasm.)
What’s really disturbing here is that HR (and my management) has completely abandoned any pretense of enforcing any sort of objective and impartial standard. What matters is not whether I was objectively disrespectful or not; what matters is that someone accused me of being disrespectful by their own subjective standards. Given the crazy subjective standards that some of these activists have, that’s a pretty damn scary reality.
So, you may ask, which activist did this accusation come from? Was it one of the activists who thought that CPAC was hateful? Was it one of the activists who thought that Kay Coles James was hateful? That definitely would be relevant context here, context that was conveniently omitted here.
In this particular case, that accusation came from the person who called Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) a terrorist: Blake Lemoine.⁴ On top of that, in the exact same thread where he called me “rude, disrespectful, and intellectually dishonest,” he also doubled down on his comments about Sen. Blackburn.
If someone calls a sitting Republican legislator a terrorist, it probably is not a good idea to treat that person as a credible accuser in disciplinary action against the owner of the republicans@ mailing list.
The other allegation I will (partially) unveil has a similar format:
1/22/2019: You wrote in the activists-us@ group: “The definition of ‘Google’s values’ that matters is the one used by Google’s activists, who could only be described as ‘nonpartisan’ in the same sense that the Women’s March could be described as inclusive towards pro-life Jewish women.“ Other members of the group responded that your statement was percieved [sic] as hateful/incendiary/inflammatory. [redacted]
Now normally, I leave the activists-us@ group alone, but in this circumstance, a member of Google’s US public policy team responded to their hate-thread about CPAC, confirming that Google would not be a sponsor of CPAC this year. In my tenure as the republicans@ owner, few things have alienated conservatives at the company as much as the CPAC debate, so in this instance, I decided to go to bat for my fellow Republicans. Thus, I decided to write a response to that member of the US public policy team, even if it meant wading into the activists-us@ group. Here was the full email I wrote:
This decision is a travesty. Few things have alienated conservatives at Google as much as the CPAC debate, and the US public policy team’s decision here will only further that alienation. It’s clear that the demands of the dominant activist tribe matter more than principled pluralism at this company.
With all this talk of respect at Google, I can’t help but come back to the wise words of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. In a paragraph on the topic of intemperate discussion, Mill writes, “The worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men.” When the anti-CPAC petition promoted by activists-us@ is literally titled, “Google, Don’t Sponsor Hate,” it’s clear that this dark art of polemics is well and alive at Google. The clear undertone of this debate has been that conservatives are both hateful and evil. I’ve had this running joke that Google is full of social justice activists who are dedicated to ridding the world of the evils of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and John Kasich. That joke takes on a new life of its own when the anti-CPAC petition lumps Marion Maréchal-Le Pen and the NRA into the same overly broad, hopelessly vague category of “hate”.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has insisted time and time again that Google is a nonpartisan company, but more and more those words seem like empty words: all talk, no action. Both internally and externally, a narrative has begun to emerge that liberal political activists are calling the shots at Google. It’s really hard to refute that narrative when the US public policy team engages with activists-us@ “in the spirit of communication and good faith” to inform them that Google has caved to their demands, and that Google will not be sponsoring CPAC this year. Somewhere, a document exists that explicitly defines Google’s values, and perhaps those values could be described as nonpartisan, but that definition does not seem to be the one that matters. The definition of “Google’s values” that matters is the one used by Google’s activists, who could only be described as “nonpartisan” in the same sense that the Women’s March could be described as inclusive towards pro-life Jewish women. Or, to quote a rather prescient headline from David French of The National Review, “In Outrage Campaigns, It’s the Internal Mob that Matters.”
Given all the hateful, incendiary, and inflammatory rhetoric that was deployed by the outrage mob against CPAC, it is beyond belief that this email was the one that got punished. For example, the person who accused me of being incendiary was also the same person who compared black conservatives who spoke at CPAC to Jews who spoke at a Holocaust denial conference.
But on the bright side, at least we now know the definition of “hate speech” that Google HR uses: anything that Google’s activists perceive as hateful. And to explain just how insane that standard is, at one point, I asked one of these activists if I had correctly summarized their views: “So to be clear, Google can’t fund groups that espouse pro-life views, and if Google does, then ‘How do we expect women to work here?’” Their response: “Correct.” (There was one non-activist who pushed back against that claim, but none of the activists pushed back against it or even seemed to be remotely bothered by it.)
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t espouse pro-life views at Google. You are still free to espouse pro-life views so long as activists don’t perceive those views to be hateful, incendiary, or inflammatory. Just remember that some of these activists also think that women can’t be expected to work at Google if it donates to groups that espouse pro-life views.
(As for the second part I redacted, debunking that part would require additional context and would require me to publish many more emails as relevant context. While publishing those emails would certainly be advantageous to my position, here I have opted to redact that second part instead of debunking it. I think I’ve already made my point by now.)
As I said before, I’m not going to cover every trivial or fabricated allegation made against me, but it should be pretty clear by now that this final written warning is a political witch hunt.
Surely, my management and HR will try to claim that problems with how I conduct myself in the course of the work as a software engineer also factored into this final written warning, but if that was the real problem, then why would they even have brought my political viewpoints into this matter in the first place? That’s what their real problem with me is here.
The manager who took part in this final written warning also once told me that my “Googleyness” was more important for my career than the actual work I did. Now, I can finally confirm what he meant by that…
I have long suspected that political bias has impaired their judgment of my work — that I have been judged for who I am, not for what I do — but up until this point, there has been a lot of smoke, but no smoking gun. Now, I have that smoking gun, though to be honest, I am a little surprised that they delivered it to me in writing and on a silver platter.
Now that we have several examples of what Google HR considers to be policy violations, let me also provide an example of what is not considered to be a policy violation.
After the outrage mob against Kay Coles James had succeeded, a Google employee posted the op-ed that Kay Coles James wrote for the Washington Post on Google’s industryinfo@ mailing list. You can imagine what the reaction was like from most of the employees who participated in that thread.
I myself didn’t want to get drawn into an extensive debate on that topic, but I did want to state my views and express support for Kay Coles James. Thus, I decided to write this simple post:
To be clear, had the council still existed with Kay Coles James on it, James should have felt welcome during council meetings to express the views she expressed in her tweets, including her views about the Equality Act.
As usual, Blake Lemoine replied in a thoughtful and respectful manner:
Yes. Everyone is clearly aware of your opinion that Google should be open to discussing whether trans women are actually women. Everyone is aware that you think that the viewpoint that trans women are actually men invading womens’ spaces is one which should be open for discussion.
Everyone is aware of your tolerance for bigotry.
Oh, and yeah. My comment was essentially a restatement of one of James’ tweets and the document to which it linked. She believes and clearly stated that she believes trans women are men invading womens’ spaces. She said many other things too. Some of which were reasonable. But when you say that you believe that ideas she expressed in those tweets should be welcome at Google then you are literally saying that womanhood of your trans female coworkers is a topic which should be a topic for debate on Google’s ethics council.
At this point, another Google employee made a heartfelt plea that we should be more respectful towards religious minorities at Google. Of course, Blake Lemoine only doubled down after that:
Bigotry is not a religion. This is despite the fact that bigots have regularly tried to wrap their bigotry in holy robes.
As for whether everyone is entitled to their own “understanding” of who is a man, who is a woman and who is a person, sure. Understand things whatever way you want. I have no problems with what people believe in their heart of hearts. That’s not what this conversation is about though. This conversation is explicitly about which ideas are welcome in a Google ethics committee for the purpose of shaping company policy.
If someone wants to influence Google’s policy with their ideas that their trans co-workers are really men invading womens’ spaces then they aren’t welcome here. If anyone personally believes that then that’s their perogative. I’m sure that supporters of a white ethnostate can be quite effective at building server infrastructure. I don’t think their beliefs should impact their employment here one way or another. It’s when they start trying to effect change within the company on the basis of those beliefs that I think they should be shown the door.
If you think black people aren’t people you can either keep it to yourself or GTFO.
If you think that trans women aren’t women then you can either keep it to yourself or GTFO.
Google’s corporate policies are crystal clear on that.
At this point, I was extremely tempted to report Blake for being “rude, disrespectful, and intellectually dishonest,” but I didn’t do that.
Nowadays, I normally don’t like to report anything to HR.⁵ I certainly don’t want to be part of the problem when it comes to frivolous HR complaints. In this instance, though, Blake crossed another line that is objective, clear, and viewpoint-neutral: he started making employment threats, not just against me, but against entire classes of Google employees. I did report him for that.
And of course, HR determined that Blake had not violated any of Google’s policies. For obvious reasons, I pushed back against that, but even an HR manager would not budge. I was honestly shocked at how HR tried to rationalize his clearly unacceptable behavior.
If left unchecked, these outrage mobs will hunt down any conservative, any Christian, and any independent free thinker at Google who does not bow down to their agenda. Anyone who stands up to them will be hounded until they either shut the fuck up or they “get the fuck out”. Furthermore, Google HR has clearly shown that they function as an accessory to these witch hunts.
As I said before, once you control who belongs at Google, you can control what content belongs on Google.
 Even the part about violence poses potential problems. While most everyone would agree that actual violence is bad, the definition of violence itself has been subject to concept creep. More and more, we’ve heard claims that speech is violence, and the outrage mob against Kay Coles James was no exception to that trend. Thus, it’s important that your definition of violence doesn’t endorse this notion that speech is violence.
 But back then, in theory I was nothing more than the conservative columnist for The Cornell Daily Sun, though in practice my role was much more than that. Today, in theory I am nothing more than the owner of a social mailing list [republicans@] at Google, though in practice my role is much more than that. It’s an eerie parallel that I have definitely noticed.
 On one occasion, through some clever cross-examination, I was able to catch my management in a lie. Here, HR did not respond by directly acknowledging that lie. Instead, they responded by saying they would capture my feedback and questions in an addendum. This tactic appears to be a fairly common one. In other words, they won’t act on a lie, but they will allow you to write an addendum to create the perception that they acted on a lie.
 At the time she was called a terrorist, Marsha Blackburn was serving in the House of Representatives. She would later be elected to the Senate.
 Believe it or not, when I first arrived at Google, I tended to blindly trust Google HR in a way that was extremely naive and for which I rightly deserved to be criticized. It suffices to say that I’ve since abandoned that naivety.