As a woman in the workplace, I am no stranger to receiving unsolicited and belittling criticism from others. Everything I say, do, and wear in my office is subject to commentary. Regardless, I’ve always felt confident in myself and where my career was heading.
That all changed when the AI-based writing assistant Grammarly identified the tone of my email as “feeble” and “cowardly.”
I send a ton of emails for work, so when I learned there’s a tool that proofreads as you write, I immediately downloaded the Grammarly extension to my browser. Then, one day, when I was drafting an email to my team requesting help with a project, Grammarly not only underlined my spelling and grammar errors, but it also interpreted how my email sounded to those reading it. After I wrapped up the body of the email with everyday phrases like, ‘I appreciate your help!’ and ‘let me know if I can clarify anything,’ Grammarly’s little green icon popped up detailing how fearful I sound to people.
I was shocked. How could an inanimate bot tell me what real humans who actually know me think of me?
In addition to adjectives, Grammarly began with describing my tone using easily understandable symbols and emojis, like smiley faces and bullseyes. Then it transitioned to more specific symbols, like a deer in headlights and a woman with a cardboard box over her head. This morning, when I wrote to my boss about what I’ve been working on, Grammarly characterized my tone with a skunk and a tombstone containing my full legal name engraved into it.
I didn’t even know they had emojis for that.
After a while, Grammarly started suggesting entirely different word choices and sentence structures that didn’t sound anything like me. Was it possible I wasn’t qualified for my job? This was confirmed when, after one email I wrote, Grammarly suggested a list of unrelated day jobs I’m better suited for.
Eventually, Grammarly’s abuse went too far. When I tried to remove the extension, a new Grammarly icon popped up with the phrase, “you better watch it if you know what’s good for you.”
That’s the type of behavior I only expect from that toxic piece of shit, Clippy.
After months of harassment and inciting fear, Grammarly finally pushed me to write more assertive emails that no one can question or disrespect. Today, the writing tool no longer finds me wimpy and frail, giving me time to focus on the important tasks, like confirming in-person if my colleagues genuinely like and respect me. Hopefully they don’t think my email asking them to meet for coffee was too pushy!