Google has a message for its employees: No more talk of politics or other polarizing topics on company time.
The new restrictions were first announced internally late Thursday in a company-wide email from Google CEO Sundar Pichai which unveiled its latest set of community guidelines for employees. The updated rules are an apparent attempt to restore order within the Silicon Valley giant, where volcanic discussions on internal message boards have created divisions among its workforce.
“While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not,” the updated community guidelines read. “Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.”
Google’s culture of open debate has strayed far from what its cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin initially envisioned. For much of Google’s formative years, being encouraged to “challenge” and debate peers was considered a key to its innovation process and differentiator that would allow the company to attract Silicon Valley’s brightest.
But by 2017, employee debates on internal message boards had become acutely divisive, illustrated best by then-Googler James Damore posting his theories on why women were less suited for engineering than men and that the main problem with Silicon Valley was its treatment of conservatives.
More recently, Kevin Cernekee, a self-described Republican who was fired by Google in 2018, told The Wall Street Journal that there was “a lot of bullying” on internal message boards at the search giant, especially as it related to political viewpoints.
A Google spokesperson told Business Insider this week that its existing policies and procedures for handling contentious debate could no longer keep up with the scale of issues it faces with a full-time workforce of over 100,000 employees. Changes needed to be made.
Google is hardly alone in having to handle disputes that bubble up through internal communication channels. In January, Business Insider’s Rob Price discovered that Facebook had instituted a similar policy over what employees can and cannot discuss — nixing politics and religion off its list of acceptable topics on company messaging forums and even during in-person conversations.
Google warns employees over speaking out against company projects: ‘Don’t assume you have the full story.’
Another update to Google’s community guidelines for employees — the first version of which were published last June— includes specific lines cautioning employees from speaking out against company projects without being certain they have “good information,” a seemingly obvious aim at curbing the rise of employee activism over controversial initiatives, like building a censored search engine for China.
“Don’t assume you have the full story,” the guidelines read. “And take care not to make false or misleading statements about Google’s products or business that could undermine trust in our products and the work that we do.”
Also interestingly, Google added a fifth category to its employee guidelines this year, reminding employees to withhold from improperly accessing or leaking sensitive company information.
In May, Business Insider reported that Google’s chief counsel Scott Walker sent a company-wide email re-enforcing its data security policies around “need to know” and “confidential” information, saying that employees in the past have been fired for violating such policies.
Google employees will now have a one-click solution for flagging internal content as inappropriate or confidential
Google told Business Insider this week that along with its policy updates, this year it had gone even further to get a handle on internal chatter.
The thousands of message boards within Google — which are really just email lists centered on certain topics or groups — all have one main moderator who’s responsible for maintaining the health of conversation taking place on their particular thread.
Those moderators (who are full-time Google employees with day jobs outside of moderation) will now be accompanied by a newly formed “community management team” to educate employees on the updated guidelines and ultimately, help enforce them.
A Google spokesperson said the company does not have set consequences for employees who violate its community guidelines and that each is handled on a case-by-case basis.
As part of its announcement Friday, Google also said it would be launching a new tool across all internal communications channels that makes it easier for employees to flag rule-breaking conversations.
In screenshots provided to Business Insider by Google, the feature, dubbed the “Central Flagging Tool,” lets employees notify the company in one-click as to whether a post contained information that was confidential, discriminatory, rude, explicit, spam, or something else of concern.
Google said that the employee feedback is “private” (others in the group will not know it has been submitted), but not anonymous. Such feedback will be collected by the new community management team, who will decide, in conjunction with the company’s HR and legal team, the severity of action needed to be taken, Google said.
Here’s the full version of Google’s updated community guidelines for employees:
Community guidelines exist to support the healthy and open discussion that has always been a part of our culture. They help create an environment where we can come together as a community in pursuit of our shared mission and serve our users. Working at Google comes with tremendous responsibility. Billions of people rely on us every day for high-quality, reliable information. It’s critical that we honor that trust and uphold the integrity of our products and services. The following guidelines are official policy and apply when you’re communicating in the workplace.
Here are some key things to remember as you communicate:
- Be responsible. What you say and do matters. You’re responsible for your words and actions and you’ll be held accountable for them.
- Be helpful. Your voice is your contribution — make it productive.
- Be thoughtful. Your statements can be attributed to Google regardless of your intent, and you should be thoughtful about making statements that could cause others to make incorrect assumptions.
1. When communicating, follow the three Google Values.
Respect the user, respect the opportunity, respect each other. Our Values govern how we conduct ourselves in the pursuit of our mission. We each need to own them personally; we all need to own them collectively.
2. Do your part to keep Google a safe, productive, and inclusive environment for everyone.
While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not. Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.
Avoid conversations that are disruptive to the workplace or otherwise violate Google’s workplace policies. Managers are expected to address discussions that violate those rules.
3. Discussions that make other Googlers feel like they don’t belong have no place here.
Don’t troll, name call, or engage in ad hominem attacks–about anyone. This includes making statements that insult, demean, or humiliate (whether individually or by reference to groups) other employees, our extended workforce, our business partners, or others (including public figures), or that violate other standards of conduct or policies against harassment and bullying.
4. You are responsible for your words and your reach.
What you say and do matters and can have lasting impact. Be respectful in your comments about (and to) your fellow Googlers.
As a Googler, your comments–wherever you make them–can have a serious impact on other Googlers, yourself and our company. We’re all free to raise concerns and respectfully question and debate the company’s activities–that’s part of our culture. Be sure to speak with good information. Don’t assume you have the full story, and take care not to make false or misleading statements about Google’s products or business that could undermine trust in our products and the work that we do.
5. Treat our data with care.
Keep in mind that our communications can be rapidly and broadly disseminated. Do not access, disclose, or disseminate Need-to-Know or Confidential information in violation of our Data Security Policy.
You are responsible for adhering to these guidelines, our Code of Conduct, and other workplace policies. If discussions or behavior don’t align with this policy, managers and discussion owners/moderators are expected to intervene. If necessary we will remove particular discussion forums, revoke commenting, viewing, or posting privileges, or take disciplinary action.
Subject to local laws and policies, Googlers and our extended workforce may communicate about pay, hours, other work terms and conditions, or about any violation of law, although they may not publicly disclose confidential information other than as provided by law.