I?ve spent the last 12 hours travelling back from Dublin to San Francisco, unaware of what was happening on the ground. When I touched down today, and I turned on my phone, I received the shock of my life. I had received an enormous collection of threatening calls, voicemails, text messages and emails, from people I?d never met.
Someone wrote ?Your ideology will be shredded to pieces, just moments before you got executed for treason?you are living lended time, enjoy till then?. There were plenty more threats like this. I?ve never been so fearful.
So why did this happen?
In late May, I accepted an invitation to meet with a few people who claimed to be from ?2 Step Tech Solutions?. They said they wanted to chat to me about a mentoring program for young women of color in tech, an area I?ve long been passionate about. We went for dinner at a restaurant in the Mission, San Francisco.
Unfortunately, I now know that these people lied about their true identities, filmed me without my consent, selectively edited and spliced the video to distort my words and the actions of my employer, and published it widely online. I now know they belong to a group called ?Project Veritas?, which has done this to numerous other people working in the tech and other sectors.
Why did they do this to me? It seems they found that I had spoken publicly at Google I/O on Ethics, and they wanted someone who would give them juicy soundbites about tech?s alleged bias against conservatives. Over the course of a two hour dinner, I guess they think I delivered.
Project Veritas has edited the video to make it seem that I am a powerful executive who was confirming that Google is working to alter the 2020 election. On both counts, this is absolute, unadulterated nonsense, of course. In a casual restaurant setting, I was explaining how Google?s Trust and Safety team (a team I used to work on) is working to help prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016. Google has been very public about the work that our teams have done since 2016 on this, so it?s hardly a revelation.
The video then goes on to stitch together a series of debunked conspiracy theories about our search results, and our other products. Google has repeatedly been clear that it works to be a trustworthy source of information, without regard to political viewpoint. In fact, Google has no notion of political ideology in its rankings. And everything I have seen backs this up. Our CEO has said ?We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda.? He?s somewhat more powerful and authoritative than me.
But despite what the video may have you believe, I?m not involved in any of these products, just like I?m not involved in any of the other topics Project Veritas baited me into discussing (whether it?s antitrust, Congress, or the dozens of other topics that didn?t appear in the video, on which I presumably didn?t say anything that could be twisted to their advantage). I was having a casual chat with someone at a restaurant and used some imprecise language. Project Veritas got me. Well done.
I don?t expect this post will do anything to deter, or convince, the people who are sending me abusive messages. In fact, it will probably encourage them, give them oxygen and amplify their theories.
But maybe a few people will read it and realize that I?m not the cartoon cut-out villain that Project Veritas would have you believe.
Maybe someone will read it, be more skeptical about a dinner they?re invited to, and avoid the same trap I fell into.
And maybe some people will take a pause and reflect on how toxic and menacing our online discourse has become, about how quick we are to believe the worst of each other, and think about the human cost of demonizing and doxxing people, the way that Project Veritas has done to me.