clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Twitter is fighting over whether the Google memo was free speech or discrimination

One venture capitalist criticized Google in an open letter, invoking his own daughter.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.