Disturbances In the Force

You Will Be Made To Conform

Last week I had the dubious opportunity to take my company's required training on sexual harassment. I never look forward to this because the entire course content is usually just a blindingly obvious amalgamation of common sense. The content of these courses usually comes as no surprise to anyone who isn't a socially obtuse, self-absorbed lech.

This year, I sort of put off doing the training, Perhaps because, with no one even working in the work place, the training is less relevant than ever. But once I passed the deadline for taking the training, I started getting daily nag emails reminding me that I was late on some of my required training.

So I sat down and did the training early this past week. It was...different this year. For the first time, the annual sexual harassment training introduced a transgender component.

The way these training videos work is by starting with a dramatization or skit of a workplace situation that is loaded with implications regarding sexual harassment. Various actors - not actors destined for an academy award I might add - play out a scene in which some (usually) absurd harassment takes place. I describe it as "absurd" not because it's absurd to call it harassment, but because it's absurd to think that any sentient human being would actually say or do what they have the villain say or do in these scenes.

Anyway, this year's training started with a scene in which an older white guy was having a discussion with a younger, attractive woman about the likelihood of some business deal coming in on time. The conversation carried on in an innocuous way until another woman walked up and was engaged in conversation by the first woman. The first woman gushed over the new woman's dress and how wonderful she looked.  This behavior by the first woman immediately piqued my interest because commenting on the appearance of another person is almost always a no-no in these situations. At first I thought, "maybe this is a vignette on gay sexual harassment".  But as things progressed, the first woman prodded the old white guy to agree with her that this other woman looked spectacular.  The old white guy was non-committal and acted like he didn't really want to acknowledge this other person or pass out any compliments.

At this point the first woman exited the scene and the old white guy was left standing there with the second woman, whom he had refrained from complimenting regarding her appearance. This is when all is made clear because it comes out that the second "woman" is actually a man going through a transgender transition.  The two people proceed to have one of these absurd conversations where the old white guy, completely unprompted and out of the blue, suddenly confronts the transgendered person about his decision to transition.

What interests me about the framing of all of this in the training video is that we seem to have reached a point at which men are being indoctrinated with the idea that they should refrain from expressing an opinion about the appearance of an actual woman, but are jerks if they don't compliment the appearance of a man dressed as a woman. On the surface, the explicit takeaway from the skit was that you should not behave like a jerk toward a transgendered person by confronting him/her and expressing your disapproval.  But the subtle, unstated takeaway, was that only an anti-social jerk would withhold a compliment about the appearance of someone who is transitioning.  While watching the training video, I was reminded of how Bob Hope used to open his shows in the early 1970's.

“I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.”

To be fair to my company, they do not develop their training curriculum in house and merely subscribe to a set of corporate training services from an external provider. It would not surprise me if I'm doing a much closer reading of the videos than anyone inside my company expects. But the transgender craziness is moving beyond the silly indoctrination of adult employees and rapidly becoming something much more sinister.  In some cases, fathers are actually being jailed for refusing to go along with the transgender zeitgeist where their own children are concerned.

Canadian Father Jailed for Speaking Out about Trans-Identifying Child
A Vancouver postman is sitting in a jail cell. His crime? Trying to save his daughter from self-destruction.

Just another week "beyond the looking glass".

You Will Make Your Customers Conform

I have invested in, and built technology for, a small software startup that provides a mobile app and services for improving the capabilities of smartphones for small businesses. We use a service provider to bridge our own communications infrastructure with the legacy telephone networks. This week, we received an e-mail from our service provider reminding us of our obligation to comply with their terms of service. Among other things, this now involves monitoring the communications of our customers to eliminate "unwanted communications".  Here's the applicable paragraph from the e-mail we received:

It is especially important for ISVs [i.e. software vendors] to have systems in place to continuously monitor their customers’ activities to detect, isolate and immediately remediate illegal activity and unwanted communications on their [service provider] account.

To be clear, we routinely monitor whether or not people are trying to message-bomb tons of phone numbers with automated text messages. We prevent this because spamming people is against our own terms of service. But what we have not done so far is to monitor the private communications of our users. My own first question regarding "unwanted communications" is, "unwanted by whom?"  Does "unwanted" mean unwanted by the recipient? Or does it actually mean unwanted according to the sensibilities and cultural priorities of our service provider? After all, Donald Trump's Tweets may be "unwanted" by Twitter, but they were certainly "wanted" by millions of his followers.

So, whose definition of "unwanted" adheres?

The problem, whether we're talking about illegal or just "unwanted" activity, is that there's really no way to comprehensively know what a user is doing without monitoring the content and substance of their communications.  Right now we're taking the position that we monitor our customer's actions and prohibit certain behaviors, but we don't monitor the actual content of their private communications.

It remains to be seen how long that position is viable.

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