During the SourceCon conference, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the “Talk Talent To Me” podcast with Rob Stevenson. After catching up with one another, we discussed some of the finer points of my presentation, “Email, I love you! You’re perfect. Now, change.” Listen in to see what you missed.
By the way, check out my lucky socks! (Thanks Rob!)
Do you know what a “social justice warrior” is? I’ve heard that term a lot in the news and depending on your ideology, it could be a pejorative or a badge of honor. According to Google, a social justice warrior is “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.”
The Urban Dictionary has a somewhat more amusing take on the term. It says that a social justice warrior is…
“A person who causes problems for normal people through protest and constant nagging because they cant accept that life isn’t fair.”
A more developed definition from the Urban Dictionary says…
“…an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will “get SJ points” and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are “correct” in their social circle.”
I think, based on general searches on the web, the term is widely considered a pejorative. For example, when I image search on “social justice warrior” I tend to see the term represented in a negative light.
When I search on YouTube for videos about social justice warriors, I see mostly denouncements with a trend of videos suggesting that being a social justice warrior is illogical.
” Do I actually literally want white people/men to die? No. And I wouldn’t condone that. But the reason it’s OK to say is because NOBODY WILL EVER DO IT.” [source]
So, what brings all of this to my mind now? Free Speech Week is coming to Berkeley University, and with controversial speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos scheduled to speak, mass protests from social justice warriors are sure to follow. My hope is that no one gets hurt, property is not destroyed and that there is a peaceful exchange of ideas. Yet, I am skeptical. I am also apprehensive for the millennial generation populating the social justice warrior movement. I do not think they realize the repercussions of acting out so violently in public, which is, risk to their personal brand. A negative personal brand is something that could severely damage future employment prospects and stymie their present-day career as well. Sigh… The world is changing exponentially fast and I have a great concern for the future of my country and the world.
I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively; domestically and internationally. I speak with all sorts of people but, predominantly my conversations are with people in the HR space. Invariably, the discussion turns to preparation for an uncertain future. The robots are not only coming, they have arrived and jobs are gradually being eliminated. No doubt, new jobs and industries will rise up as old skills are no longer needed. Imagine how cars displaced the horse and buggy, music downloads did away with record stores and the iPhone birthed a whole new industry. It is quite possible to conceive that people starting college this year will not have the skills for jobs that would have been created at their graduation date. This is why the skills that will make you the most employable are soft skills.
Oxford University did a study based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which rated 35 skills on how important they are in over 600 jobs. [see chart above] Some of the skills that ranked the highest were…
Judgement and decision making
These are skills I do not immediately observe in social justice warriors who, when they are shown on the news protesting, are destroying property, shouting down people trying to speak or show themselves inept at making a cogent argument to communicate their discontent. (To be fair, if I am mislabeling the groups on the news engaged in these activities, I do apologize; yet at this writing, such is my understanding.)
It seems to me that many of these activists are so caught up in their passions that they do not realize that said moments of anarchy are being captured and preserved on social media. Case in point, Twitter users were outing Charlottesville protesters resulting in loss of employment for at least one of the identified parties.
(And for the sake of clarity, I am not stating that all social justice warriors are Nazis; I cite this as an example.) In Louisville, KY, police used social media monitoring tools to track anti-Trump protesters. I bring all of that to say, when employers run a background check on these social justice warriors and their social media history is factored in, it will be challenging for them to secure traditional means of employment.
Consider what an employer may be thinking but, will most likely never verbalize to you, for fear of some sort of legal jeopardy.
What if my client is a devoted Trump supporter are you are not? Will the sight of a red “Make America Great Again” hat trigger you to lecture my client on their “wrong thinking?” Will you treat them differently from all my other customers?
On one of your recent social media posts, I noticed that you destroyed a statue in a public square. Since I know you are given to destroying property; should I be concerned that you will wreck my office if I fire you?
If CNN is on in the breakroom, and a political topic is discussed, will you see that as an opportunity to champion your cause? In other words, will a news report or opinion piece you hear on the office premises, distract you from the work I hired you to do?
Bottom line: Is hiring you, social justice warrior, a risk to my business?
As disparaging as my comments may be towards these social justice warriors, there can be an upside to their exorbitant passions, if it is channeled productively. For example, an estimated 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor, generating $150 billion in illegal profits in the private economy. An organization called “Know The Chain” works to make sure companies are complying with the law and not allowing slave labor in their overall supply chain. Know the Chain ranked companies like HP, Microsoft and Apple as being exemplary in their efforts to eradicate forced labor from their supply chains. I imagine the abolition of slavery is something a social justice warrior would want to lend their passion to. The right individual could even be a spokesperson for the company and bring greater awareness to the issue. Modern day slavery notwithstanding, there are other causes worthy of note for a social justice warrior. Delta Airlines is very active in ending human trafficking with 30,000 of its employees trained to spot human trafficking situations on airports and flights. Wouldn’t this be a cause worthy of passion, lobbying for new laws and awareness championing? And for the more health conscious social justice warrior, there is a BIG fight over labeling which foods are GMO (genetically moderated) with some companies taking an ethical stand on the issue. Why not make working for these rebellious companies a stand against the “man” before it becomes a cause célèbre?
So, how can an employer figure out if the millennial standing before her (or him) is a high risk for drama? One company instituted a “Snowflake Test.” Said test includes questions like, “What does America mean to you?” and “When was the last time you cried and why?” Kyle Reyes, the creator of the test, said, “someone who’s not proud to be an American is immediately out of the running, as are people who don’t support the Second Amendment right to bear arms.”
According to Reyes, the new test has been successful so far. About 60% of “applicants to his marketing company drop out when they hear about it.” He also claims other companies have reached out to him with questions about implementing similar tests in their own hiring process, and that it’s been very popular “because people are sick and tired of having to be so politically correct.”
If you like this idea of personality testing for job applicants, you may want to check out what Unilever is doing. In the past year, they hired 450 people based, in part, on how well they scored on a series of online games. These games tested for skills like concentration under pressure and short term memory. I would imagine that personality traits were a factor as well.
So, after all I’ve shared, would I hire a social justice warrior? It depends. If they had the skills, passed my background check and represented themselves well, I see no reason not to. Actually, I hope that they would have conducted themselves in such a way (online and offline) that I would not even know their political leanings. Frankly, who my employees support politically and which social causes inflame their passions, are of no concern to me; until it is. Free speech is the right of every American! As long as said speech and corresponding actions do not disrupt my workplace or business, I have no problem with what people believe; social justice warriors or otherwise.
But I digress, what do you think? Please leave a comment below.
Employers are including social media in their background checks
If you want to learn something truly fascinating that you might not have considered before, Google “big data is a civil rights issue.” As you scan through the search results and glean tidbits of data from the descriptions, or skim the various articles, you will no doubt see that the world is sitting on a powder keg of outrage. Algorithms and automation threaten to divide my country more profoundly than any political unrest around civil war statues ever could. Indeed, when it comes to racial disparity in terms of opportunity or various life advancements, nothing is more injurious than the unintended consequences of machine learning. When I consider the effects on society and the labor market, I shudder at the pending reality of it all.
In preparation for an online conversation with Recruiting Live, I read up on current developments in artificial intelligence. The topic of AI has long been a fascination of mine. In fact, I gave a presentation on Big Data a few years ago and tangentially touched on how civil rights were being violated. My, my, my how things have progressed for the worse since then.
What I find most ironic about these developments is that they are not wholly malicious in nature; they are unintentional and that concerns me most of all. Take for example, the racial bias inherent in facial recognition software.
In Los Angeles, there are 16 “undisclosed locations” where the public is being monitored by police surveillance cameras. Said cameras can recognize individuals from up to 600 feet away. According to The Atlantic, “The faces they collect are then compared, in real-time, against “hot lists” of people suspected of gang activity or having an open arrest warrant… Considering arrest and incarceration rates across L.A., chances are high that those hot lists disproportionately implicate African Americans…Facial-recognition systems are more likely either to misidentify or fail to identify African Americans than other races, errors that could result in innocent citizens being marked as suspects in crimes.”  Several states enroll driver license data into their facial recognition databases which helps them identify suspected fugitives caught on camera and I think that is a good thing; in fact, I applaud it. However, I have one bit of apprehension. Who inspects these facial recognition systems for accuracy? As far as I have been able to discern, police are not required to check these systems for bias.
Perhaps the rationale against testing machines for discriminatory factors is, a machine is identifying people, so there is no racial bias. To that argument, I would give a few examples; most notably from Google. When I Google the term “unprofessional hairstyles for work” and refine by “face.” I see African American women overwhelmingly represented. Does Google think that the various hairstyles of African American women are unprofessional? Google, the company, probably does not. Google, the machine, thinks otherwise. Were these results engineered to appear this way? I doubt it.
Consider another instance of search engine faux pas, when Google was identifying black people as gorillas. Does Google believe that black people bear a resemblance to simians? Google, the company, probably does not. Google, the machine, thinks otherwise. At least, it used to before Google, the company, made adjustments. (Apologies for the language in the tweet below.)
If you would indulge me, allow me another Google example. Google used to feature mugshots at the top of search results for people with “black-sounding” names. Latanya Sweeney, a black professor in government and technology at Harvard University and founder of the Data Privacy Lab, brought this to the public’s attention in 2013 when she published her study of Google AdWords. She found that when people search Google for names that traditionally belong to black people, the ads shown are of arrest records and mugshots. 
Did you know that “Online ads for high-paying jobs are shown more often to men than women, according to a recent study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University…?” In the study, “Ads for careerchange.com, a job coaching website, advertising “$200k+ Jobs – Execs Only” were shown roughly 1,800 times to the “male” profiles and only around 300 times to the “female” profiles.” According to Anupam Datta, one of the researchers on the study and an associate professor in Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon, “It could be that Google’s machine learning algorithm over time may have inferred that more males were clicking on these [career services] ads and the system optimized to show them to males. If this is so, it is then unintentional automated discrimination….”
Another case of unintentional automated discrimination is inherent in retail theft databases. Did you know that people accused of retail theft by an employer, even if they’re never prosecuted, may have trouble landing a job in the future? There are at least 3 of these databases in operation. Cleveland.com points them out and offers some compelling commentary. 
The National Retail Mutual Association, for example, has collected more than 500,000 incidents of employee theft in its NRMA Retail Theft Database. NRMA accepts reports from client stores who have obtained a signed confession, a signed restitution agreement, a fully paid civil demand, a criminal conviction or other “documentary evidence.”
Choicepoint, the giant data aggregator, says its Esteem workplace theft database collects reports from more than 75,000 retail stores that provide an employee’s signed confession or proof of a theft conviction.
HireRight has an employee-theft database to which 500 member companies contribute a signed confession, evidence of a conviction, video surveillance or eyewitness statements.
Fortunately, for those concerned, you have a right to get a free copy of your report every 12 months. [Find that info here] Such is not the case, at least not here in the USA. If an algorithm denies you an opportunity or discriminates against you unfairly, for whatever reason, there is no recourse. Who do you petition to review the algorithmic practices of companies that have denied you credit, prevent you from getting work in your industry or any other unfair practice? Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope, actually two beams of optimism; one from the UK and the other from India.
Last year, TechCrunch reported that “A UK parliamentary committee has urged the government to act proactively — and to act now — to tackle “a host of social, ethical and legal questions” arising from growing usage of autonomous technologies such as artificial intelligence…Publishing its report into robotics and AI today, the Science and Technology committee flags up several issues that it says need “serious, ongoing consideration” — including: taking steps to minimise bias being accidentally built into AI systems” The article also cited, “EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which comes into force for EU Member States in 2018 — creates a “right to explanation” for users, whereby they will have the right to ask for “an explanation of an automated algorithmic decision that was made about them…”
In India, there has been a truly Orwellian movement to link all of its citizens account to a single biometric ID so that you can access any and all governmental services. From what I can tell, if you want to file your taxes, open a bank account or get a mobile phone, all of that data is tied to the Aadhaar biometric system which is controlled by the Indian government.  Fortunately for the Indian people (and I think the world), India’s Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right for its citizens and the effort seems to be stalled, at least for now. The court judgement is 547 pages and I have not made the time to dive into it just yet; so, no details from me on that yet. However, if you can’t wait on me to revisit this in the future, I was just made aware (literally) of this article  that gives analysis on the matter.
So, after reading all of the above, what are your thoughts concerning the matter? My hope is that you recognize the dangers of unchecked algorithms. Perhaps you will start a company that does risk assessments on algorithms for disparate impact on consumers? Maybe you will lobby the government for the creation of an agency to watchdog the effect of machine learning algorithms? Or, perhaps you will crawl into a ball, mortified by the impending doom looming towards us all. If so, fear not, the end while near is not upon us. There is still time to take precautions and dissuade the AI apocalypse. If you must fear anything concerning any of these matters; let your trepidation be for those who have been made aware of the dangers and still choose inaction. Hmm… I think that’s us.
# Twitter is still a mess. Harassment still runs rampant on the platform. The Twitter app and website are still confusing and intimidating for newcomers.
# Look, we get it. A struggling company isn’t easy to turn around. But at some point, you have to ask: Is Twitter going to make it?
# Really, looking at 2017, Twitter seems to be about where it was at the top of 2016. There’s fresh promise in the new talent that’s come aboard, but at the same time, Twitter is still struggling to find its direction.
# The company has fired nine percent of its global workforce during its ninth straight quarter of declining growth. The company’s share price has fallen 45 percent in the past 12 months.
# The social networking platform has been behind the market in terms of innovation — rivals such as Facebook have pulled farther ahead by continuing to offer new features regularly, while even smaller companies such as Snap Inc. (formerly Snapchat) have diversified into device offerings.
So, things being as they are, I had this idea. It is my hope that someone out there will get this idea to the right person at Twitter. Ideally, they will leverage this idea, generate a new revenue stream and all is well. If not, well, I’ve done my part.
So, this is my idea – “registered hashtags.”
Twitter has a TON of hashtags posted within its tweets. More often than not, I can figure out what they are related to (conference, TV show, some trend) but, not always. I propose that people have the option to register a hashtag on twitter the same way one registers websites with ICANN. So, what would that mean, exactly? Let’s say I tweet the following…
“I love twitter. Retweet this if you love twitter too. #lovemesometwitter”
If someone clicks on the #lovemesumtwitter hashtag, it takes them to a landing page on Twitter. Said landing page will explain what the hashtag is all about and would share related content (videos, graphics, stories). The registered hashtag would have a limit of… umm… 12 characters and not count towards the 140 characters allowed.
“Interesting,” you may say, “but talk to me about the money.”
“Okeedokee,” I reply.
The price for a registered hashtag would be based on the level of service.
For $10.00, when someone uses that hashtag, it will link to a special landing page explaining its purpose. You also get a few performance stats. The hashtag will be registered for a year then, released for someone else to buy unless the original purchaser renews it.
For $25.00, you get more bells and whistles on your landing page, more stats and you reserve the rights to the hashtags for three years. You can also link to your hashtag page from your Twitter profile.
In addition to the above, Twitter sets up a brokerage system allowing people to buy and sell registered hashtags and usernames. With each transaction, Twitter gets a percentage. (i.e. eBay, PayPal)