Shortly after Google fired James Damore, the engineer responsible for a controversial memo that attributed disparities between men and women in technology fields and leadership positions to “biological causes,” a prominent venture capitalist vented on Twitter. Eric Weinstein, the managing director at Thiel Capital, tweeted a short open letter to the company that invoked his daughter, tossing gasoline on what was already a smoldering social media fire.
Dear @Google,— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2017
Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR.
Thx in advance,
The tweet and its replies showed the stark divide between those who prioritize free speech and those who prioritize fighting discrimination in the battle that quickly erupted over the firing and the memo that precipitated it. Conservatives especially denounced Damore’s firing as political correctness and thought policing, prompting others to defend it as a response to discriminatory action against women and marginalized people in technology. Almost everyone, online at least, was heated.
Damore’s memo, as Recode’s Kara Swisher reported, suggested that women might be underrepresented due to biological differences:
I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.
As Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai wrote to employees in response:
First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.
Weinstein mocked that notion in his tweet, and conservatives agreed, decrying the firing on grounds of censorship, freedom of speech, and political correctness.
War Is Peace— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) August 8, 2017
Freedom Is Slavery
Groupthink Is Diversity
In future, when Google discovers thoughtcrime, they should take someone, nearly drown him, revive him, then electrocute him.— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) August 8, 2017
Several people criticized Weinstein’s tweet — including Swisher, who admonished him for teaching her sons about “denigrating women” in an open letter of her own — and Jen Dziura, a writer and founder of the feminist career advice website the Bullish Society.
Dear @EricRWeinstein,— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) August 8, 2017
Stop teaching my boys that their path to decency lies not in coding but in denigrating women.
Thx in advance,
A mom https://t.co/nDq69sf0Fe
Dude. The reason we want workplaces free of discrimination is so we can focus on our actual damn jobs.— jendziura (@jendziura) August 8, 2017
Later, Weinstein said there was a “war” by supporters of social justice against people who “don’t tow [sic] a PC line,” apparently in reference to both the firing by Google and a previous incident involving his brother, an biology professor.
Thx Cat. There's a war against my brother & other biologists where social justice is threatening their families if they don't tow a PC line. https://t.co/NiBE0rmCSy— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2017
One Twitter user responded to Weinstein’s assertion by pointing out that it’s not political correctness but a lack of supporting data that caused people to criticize the assertion that women can’t perform well in technology fields.
Not PC to think that Women can do math & science equally. We have differences as humans, no data to support that being adept at math is 1— Danica✨ (@mamirocs) August 8, 2017
Meanwhile, the debate continues on Twitter and elsewhere about Google’s obligations to diverse viewpoints — including those with which it disagrees — and the limits of free speech.