Google Hires 4Chan Founder, Sends Huge “Fuck You” to Marginalized Userson March 8th, 2016
In June last year, Google took a stand against cyber sexual assault, announcing it would begin complying with user requests to remove “nude or sexually explicit” images posted without their consent from Search results. In September, Google thinktank Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas) invited a number of prominent activists, organizers and leaders to discuss the growing problem of online harassment and how to combat it. In December, the executive chairman of Google penned a New York Times op-ed claiming “The Internet is showing us the raw reality of the lives of oppressed people and their real needs,” calling on technologists to “build tools… sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment.” And over the past several years, Google has made dozens of public declarations of its commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in its workforce, its products, and the technology field overall.
Then, just yesterday, Google announced it was “thrilled” to hire the founder of 4chan on its social products team.
Yes, that’s right: 4chan, a site known primarily for enabling mass cyber sexual assault against women, spawning #GamerGate, doxxing massive numbers of private individuals, hosting countless violent threats (primarily against marginalized populations), harboring dozens of boards rife with hate speech of all forms, conducting years of highly organized harassment against Black women (documented by @sassycrass in #yourslipisshowing)… and the list goes on. And on. How could Google, supposedly dedicated to stemming online harassment, and increasing the diversity and inclusivity of its workforce and userbase, hire the white man who not only created, but personally oversaw 4chan for over 10 years — a site whose only claim to fame is hosting, harboring, coddling, incubating and disseminating hate, harassment, groupthink, violence and terrorism?
4chan evokes a visceral sensation of fear and trepidation in many marginalized Internet users. The pain, terror, humiliation and suffering of people who have been victimized by 4chan is REAL. While this trauma is dismissed by our cowardly tech press as “controversy”, it MUST be acknowledged. And even if 4chan founder Christopher “Poot” Poole eventually stepped away from overseeing 4chan in January of 2015, that in no way minimizes or erases his responsibility for a decade + of inculcating one of the most vile, violent and harmful “communities” on the Internet.
Google’s hiring of Moot is reprehensible, and is an explicit endorsement of 4chan’s brand of festering, volatile hate group as “community”. It erases 4chan’s legacy of hate and violence through a process of corporate legitimization, loaning gravitas and respectability to 4chan and its creator, as if founding a terrorist group is some kind of achievement, rather than a crime for which punishment should, at the least, be shunning from the technology community – rather than an opulently well-paid seat at its richest, most famous and celebrated companies. Moot is doubtlessly being handsomely compensated for joining the Google team: Hell, *NEW GRADS* just starting at Google can make a six-figure base salary. While I’ve oft noted that there are no consequences for white men in technology – no matter what damage they cause to others, or even how bad they tank their companies – this is beyond “no consequences”: Moot is being rewarded by Google for creating one of the most organized and prolific hate groups on the internet.
For the marginalized groups who power adoption of social tools, and for the underrepresented people Google claims it wants to hire, bringing on the ringleader of a notorious online hate group sends not only a “bad message”, but a giant “fuck you.” No matter how much PR ink Google sheds to a sycophantic tech press on its “commitment to diversity and inclusion”, it’s actions are unmistakable. As Riley H. noted recently in MVC, companies continue to make it “crystal clear that they don’t actually care about the diversity they’re supposed to be working on.”
Yes, Google’s forays into social networking have been a rapid succession of failure – from Buzz, to Wave, to Circles, and eventually Plus, which has flagged drearily for years now and really just needs to be put out of its misery. But can hiring the founder of 4chan — I repeat, the founder of fucking 4chan — actually stem the bleeding? I’d argue that Moot’s core competencies – building a massively homogenous community, largely geographically isolated to the US, UK and Canada, around “content” that is equal parts shit-posting, hate speech and violent threats, are not the core competencies that Google needs to succeed in social. By it’s own account, 4chan is 70% male; though more detailed demographics are unavailable, all signs indicate a primarily young (age: 18-34), overwhelming white userbase. This is *not* the result of leadership which is capable of building inclusive and global social tools. Far from it.
Yes: online hate, harassment and terrorism drives plenty of clicks, with the feeding-frenzy-like “spikes” it drives perhaps resembling something like viral “success”… to anyone entirely lacking critical thinking skills and a moral compass. While Moot’s efforts with 4chan might be considered a “win” traffic-wise, it falls down on many of the core indicators of a successful mainstream social network. Despite being founded some 13 years ago, its technology is somehow more than 15 years out of date. Its user interface is a garish nightmare, and its famously anonymous structure means that Moot has no experience in conceptualizing, much less managing, the more stable identities that mainstream social networks are built on. As Recode notes, Moot founded and then tanked startup “Canvas Network” soon after leaving 4chan, showing he is far from a golden child of internet community. In short, there is absolutely no indication that Moot possess any of the skills or experiences that would indicate he is capable of steering Google towards the social media success that has eluded it for so long.
I write this all with much snark, but little humor. Though I have no allegiance and little belief in Google’s abilities to change its own demographics, much less Internet culture itself, moves like this make it impossible to even pretend we are making progress in either inclusion OR diversity in tech. And it’s also not the first time Silicon Valley has endorsed 4chan: Poole’s Canvas Networks was funded to the tune of almost 4 million by famed VC firms Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. Indeed, Moot’s hiring is somewhat reminiscent of Twitter recently appointing a white man as its head of diversity — less in any similarities between the hires, and more in the blatant “we just don’t give a fuck” hubris underlying these decisions. It’s even more depressing to watch the tech press handle the news with kitten gloves, framing 4chan as “the birthplace for a number of popular memes”; at its strongest “infamous” or even “controversial”. Like Moot’s hiring itself, the tech media is complicit in covering up the truth about 4chan and online harassment overall.
Since tech companies refuse it, and the tech press will not do it, I instead call on the tech community itself to condemn Google’s hiring of Christopher Poole. Google’s confidence in this decision is justified by our silence.
If Google refuses any moral compass, we must serve as one. We must stand resolutely with victims of online hate groups, and against a tech culture that actively rewards its ringleaders.