Last week, Google fired engineer James Damore for writing a memo criticizing Google’s diversity initiatives and its political culture, and speculating that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.” Just a couple of days later, CNN fired commentator Jeffrey Lord for tweeting the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil!” at the president of the liberal watchdog site Media Matters (Lord claims that his tweet was meant to be a mockery of fascism).
Neither of these firings are violations of the First Amendment, since the First Amendment protects speech from government censorship or punishment, and Google and CNN are both private companies. But they’ve still sparked intense debate about how companies should handle employees with controversial opinions, the impact those decisions have on the public conversation, and whether a company as central to human communication as Google has unique responsibilities when it comes to free expression.
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