Plowing through my inbox this morning, I came upon a disturbing message from a person asking for my help in dealing with a racist, antisemitic Twitter user.
This Twitter user — self-identified as being in South Africa — had tweeted that he considered Jews being processed into lamp shades and soap as positive aspects of the Holocaust.
Twitter’s Terms of Service seem fairly explicit on this score:
Examples of what we do not tolerate includes, but is not limited to behavior that harasses individuals or groups of people with … references to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence in which/with which such groups have been the primary targets or victims …
Obviously that South African Twitter user’s tweet falls squarely into this category.
Yet my correspondent insists that they’ve been reporting that user to no avail — the vile tweet is still online.
Or is it?
I can definitely see it from here in L.A.
But when I noted this situation on Google+, within minutes a follower in Germany commented that he couldn’t see it. In fact, it’s specifically marked by Twitter as being “withheld” from him.
He graciously performed a few experiments with a VPN and quickly verified what we both had been suspecting.
Twitter appears to be geoblocking that hate speech in Germany, where strong laws against such speech are on the books, but is permitting that same hate speech to appear elsewhere, even though it clearly is in violation of Twitter’s own stated Terms of Service.
Effectively, Twitter is playing the complicit stooge with this disgusting Twitter user, “bending over backwards” to assure that their antisemitic garbage gets the widest possible global audience, while not running afoul of Germany’s specific laws.
This is a disgrace. It is yet another example of Twitter’s apparent willingness to give racists, antisemites, sexists, bullies, and other purveyors of hateful evil every possible benefit of the doubt.
For all of their talk, it’s clear that in key respects Twitter is still voluntarily tolerating obvious hate on their platform.
Twitter’s management should be ashamed of itself. Twitter’s employees are being humiliated. And the company’s stockholders should feel mortified.
A couple of evenings ago, during a discussion of Google issues on the national radio venue where I frequently guest, I urged listeners to visit Google’s excellent “My Activity” feature (https://google.com/myactivity).
I’m used to getting “Now I understand, why didn’t anybody ever explain this to me that way before?” emails after my Google discussions, but the response to my mentioning My Activity was very strong and somewhat different, more like “Wow, this is great. Why the hell does Google hide this feature?”
Google doesn’t actually hide it, but the number of persons noting that they’d never before heard of My Activity got me thinking.
In fact, it’s not just radio audiences who seem to be largely unaware of MA, but it’s interesting how many highly technical, long-term Google users have expressed surprise when I’ve mentioned it to them — they were unaware of it also.
And this is really a shame, because MA is a fantastic tool, providing world-class access and control to users for their data on Google, in a comprehensive form that puts most other Internet firms to shame.
I’ve discussed MA in some detail previously, e.g.:
The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about
Quick Tutorial: Deleting Your Data Using Google’s “My Activity” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/24/quick-tutorial-deleting-your-data-using-googles-my-activity
Yet this still begs the question. While references to MA show up in various Google services and help pages, there’s no evidence that I know of to suggest that Google ever has deployed a serious continuing “outreach” to the public in general to make them aware of MA — and so it appears that most people still don’t even realize that such an important feature exists — a feature, I might add, that directly retorts the false propaganda of Google Haters.
And therein may be the clue to this mystery.
Google seems to have — perhaps since its earliest days — a deeply ingrained institutional fear of “Streisand Effect” blowbacks. Google seems to often believe that even having utterly false, fake, damaging propaganda about Google being widely circulated is somehow less of a risk than being upfront and direct about complex issues, even though Google is entirely on the side of the angels in those issues.
Here’s my guess. I suspect that Google is concerned that too much attention to the comprehensive nature of MA would cause too many users to become concerned regarding the scope of user data being presented, even though MA provides users with the ability not only to view and delete that data as they wish, but also to indicate their ongoing Google data collection preferences.
Google may be concerned that users will be “creeped out” by seeing their search and other activity histories in detail, even though those users are being given complete control over that data in the process.
Obviously I don’t know that these are actually Google’s concerns regarding MA. But to the extent that they might be, I would consider such concerns to be misguided at best, and not beneficial to Google or its users.
I base this largely on the sorts of experiences I noted above. When I “reveal” MA to people — techies and non-techies alike — the response I get is almost always the same — enthusiastic approval.
And I think that the reason for this is fairly obvious. Most Internet users already assume that a lot of data is being collected from them in the course of providing the services that they depend upon. That horse is long since out of the barn.
The key question now is the degree of control that firms provide users over that data — and this is where Google’s My Activity shines so very brightly as a tremendously user-positive feature.
But yes, people need to know about it before they can use it!
All else being equal, one might assume Google preferring that users delete as little of their data as possible. The more data Google has, the better they can customize services, train machine learning algorithms, and perform other functions that benefit both Google and its users.
But I would argue that overall, the benefits all around of widespread awareness and use of My Activity far outweigh any perceived negatives, and that, frankly, Google should be out there promoting its availability widely — not depending on third parties like me to sing its praises publicly.
Google will be 20 years old next year. It’s time for Google to outgrow its youthful fears of Streisand attacks around so many corners. Googlers do great work and Google is a great company. Google should fully embrace the ability of the public to appreciate what Google does, rather than so often treating the public as something to be somehow feared.
Fired Google engineer James Damore, author of the infamous internal Google anti-diversity memo, and currently basking in the warm, apparently mutual embrace of the Nazi alt-right, seems to now be making something of a career out of spewing anti-Google propaganda, especially via right-wing media venues.
Amidst the accumulating pile of garbage claims that’s he’s been making, one in particular caught my eye, his statement that Google is “almost like a cult.”
My original tongue-in-cheek response to that bizarre comment was to suggest that the only “cult” I’ve seen inside Google is the “cult of coffee” — it could be argued that Google runs on equal parts of electricity, brains, and a vast river of that miracle brew. That’s a cult that I enthusiastically endorse!
But this really isn’t funny, and one has to wonder how Damore’s twisted view of Google actually developed.
One clue is that he was hired into Google directly from Harvard, where his behavior had apparently already forced the administration to publicly apologize for his sexist antics. So he presumably had no real experience inside the cultures of other major firms, and so no personal data points for realistic comparisons.
As the “old guy” in the room, I have the advantage of having seen the inner workings of a variety of technology and other firms over a significant span of years, with AT&T Bell Labs and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in their heydays being perhaps the most relevant in this context.
I consulted to Google a few years ago for a considerable span, in an “embedded” mode that gave me access to the vast majority of internal resources that are available to full-time employees, and naturally I’ve interacted with significant numbers of Googlers (Google employees) at various levels, so I feel fairly confident about my understanding of Google’s culture.
Google is not a cult.
Google in fact has the healthiest overall internal corporate culture in my experience, an open internal culture that indeed encourages robust discussion to a degree that I’ve never seen at other large firms.
This is not only important for Google, it’s crucial to Google’s users as well.
During my time inside Google, I witnessed (and in fact participated in) discussions regarding various controversial internal issues, the ultimate results of which were very much positive for Google’s users. Were some of these discussions a bit heated at times? Sure, we’re dealing with human beings with human emotions, not robots.
But — and this is crucial — they were always respectful, not just in keeping with Google’s rules for employee conduct, but as should be the case for all corporate discussions, anywhere and everywhere.
And this is where Damore went seriously astray. His sexist “manifesto” was couched in the same sort of fake science, pseudo-statistical arguments and jargon long used by racists in their propagandistic efforts to belittle and berate blacks. We’ve seen it all before. It’s as ludicrous now as it was then.
Yet that’s not even the half of it. Much more than simply scientifically bogus, Damore’s screed was broadly and accurately interpreted inside Google as a barely veiled threat against women at Google, a toxic attempt to “push them back into their place” and poison their abilities to work with men on teams going forward. Whether or not this was actually Damore’s intent is impossible to judge with certainty, but the damage was done, and even the naivete of the young is not an excuse for this kind of attack. His utterly unrepentant stance toward the events leading to his firing at least strongly suggests that this was exactly his intention, however.
Damore is apparently not without his supporters inside Google — the leaking of internal Google discussions and the subsequent targeting of innocent Googlers by the Nazi alt-right is clear enough evidence of that. In any large organization today, you’re bound to have at least a few employees willing to try poison a culture toward the furtherance of their own hateful political motives.
But the vast, overwhelming majority of Googlers are immensely proud of Google, and they have every right to be. And I believe that they will assure that Google’s open internal culture will survive Damore and the attacks against Google that he has inspired.
That’s very good news for Googlers, and for Google users like you and me.