AppleToo organizer faces online harassment—some of it from coworkers
Apple developer Cher Scarlett wishes her employer would tell her fellow employees not to harass her.
“If you trust Cher, you’re an idiot,” a commenter in the Apple channel of Blind said, which is only open to Apple employees. The thread was about how Scarlett is “ruining the company.”
Anonymous users in the Apple section of Blind criticize Scarlett and AppleToo organizers.
Credit: screenshot: blind / cher scarlett
On Aug. 7, Scarlett posted a survey in the company Slack and on Twitter that allowed coworkers to share their salary data. Discussing salaries with fellow employees is protected by U.S. labor law, and is a tool employees can use to make a company more equitable.
By Aug. 11, she began receiving obscene submissions to the survey. Harassment on Twitter and in emails followed. One user on Blind recently doxxed her. (That thread has since been deleted.)
Mashable has viewed screenshots of the Blind forum posts, tweets and DMs, junk survey responses, and emails. Apple did not return Mashable’s request for comment.
The closed nature of the forums and surveys, and the details included in the tweets and DMs, leads Scarlett to believe that many of the anonymous messages come from people who also work for Apple.
Mashable wasn’t able to verify who wrote these messages. Many of the Twitter accounts that harassed Scarlett have been deleted. But the Blind threads require Apple credentials to gain access, and people who want to fill out the survey need a password from an internal Apple Slack channel or Scarlett herself.
“I’m on sick leave today because I literally can’t handle doing my job and dealing with this at the same time,” Scarlett told Mashable on Friday of last week. “I have to try to get my head back in the game on Monday, but it’s hard when there’s so many people you work with who have such hateful things to say about you, and you don’t even know who they are.”
A DM from an anonymous Twitter user who says they’re an Apple employee.
Credit: screenshot: twitter / cher scarlett
Scarlett is the only public-facing member of a new employee group called “AppleToo.” During the last four years, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there has been a wave of employee activism at other tech companies, like Google, over workplace discrimination and inequality. Though there have been reports and lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination at Apple before, the company has largely evaded the same level of scrutiny as its Big Tech peers, and Apple employees have not risen up in the same way other tech workers have.
Now, Scarlett and fourteen organizers are asserting that “Apple Too” needs a reckoning. They began with the salary transparency form, so workers could determine whether there are gender and racial pay gaps without relying on Apple’s data. Exposing pay gaps can put pressure on a company to make salaries more equitable.
Later in August, the organizers launched an AppleToo website, and a Discord channel on an Apple employee’s Discord server that verifies all members are current employees. These avenues allow the group to collect stories from Apple employees about discrimination, racism, sexism, and other problems they’ve witnessed or been victims of in the workplace. The group says that Apple’s internal systems for dealing with these issues are inadequate and unresponsive, serving to protect the company more than the employees themselves.
To date, the group says it has compiled more than 500 stories.
“It’s sort of proof that people needed this outlet, and they wanted it,” Scarlett said. “They wanted a way to connect with each other.”
Scarlett said she has received support from employees in person and online.
That’s similar to what Apple engineering program manager Ashley Gjovik said she experienced.
Gjovik is not affiliated with AppleToo, but has been speaking out publicly about workplace issues at Apple. That included criticizing Apple’s plans to make workers return to the office in September, a timeline she viewed as unsafe and arbitrary. (Those return-to-office plans have since been pushed back to January.) As she told The Verge, she also raised issues of “sexism, a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, and retaliation” to Apple, and tweeted about them. Soon after, Apple placed Gjovik on paid administrative leave while looking into her complaints.
Still, she said via email, “I’ve been met overwhelmingly with support from current & past colleagues, the press, and the public. I also have many friends who are senior leaders at Apple who continue to support me through all of this.”
The effort to shine a light on workplace equity issues, however, hasn’t gone over well with all Apple employees.
Messages and forum posts accuse both Scarlett and Gjovik of betraying the company, complaining about nothing, violating company protocol, and causing security breaches. Comments on Blind criticizing Gjovik contained information that could compromise her personal safety. Blind removed those comments at Gjovik’s request.
When it comes to both its products and the company itself, Apple is notoriously secretive. Scarlett views the vitriolic criticism levied at her for breaking the Apple cone of silence as “a reflection of the culture.”
Gjovik also attributes the “conflict” she’s faced online as “rooted in folks simply trying to understand my story and motives, and trying to reckon with challenging their perspectives of a highly respected company with deep brand loyalty.”
Those intensely loyal Apple fans could be fueling the AppleToo backlash.
Gjovik says she has “some suspiciously over-invested trolls,” and Scarlett went so far as to write a piece of code to hide tweets from the alias accounts of one of her especially pernicious trolls. A tweet from AppleToo organizers was mistakenly flagged as spam by Twitter, and received limited distribution. Twitter says this was not the result of user flagging, but could not provide further explanation, despite the fact that the tweet did not meet Twitter’s description of spam.
“The world generally admires Apple,” Gjovik said. “I think it is difficult for employees and the public to reckon with Apple the company misbehaving, when we often mentally combine the company and brand. I think folks are having a difficult time coming to terms that Apple the company appears to have major, systemic issues while at the same time folks have deep loyalty to and admiration of Apple’s products.”
Apple has been largely silent on the AppleToo campaign. It has taken down multiple pay equity surveys (for collecting gender-based data, it says), though Scarlett’s most recent survey remains up. It also recently removed a Slack channel for discussing pay equity.
Scarlett wishes Apple would weigh in, specifically about the harassment she’s faced online. But since it has not, she thinks Apple’s silence speaks volumes.
“Apple says nothing, and to me that sort of enables the behavior,” Scarlett said. “You’re not telling these people who are very loyal to you that I’m, you know, not a bad seed, or a bad apple, as it were. That I’m doing the right thing and that clearly my heart is in the right place. To me, they’re enabling the hostility and harassment.”
UPDATE: Sept. 2, 2021, 4:35 p.m. PDT This story was updated to include more detail about a post criticizing Gjovik.