Google Stamps Out Political Speech Among Staff With New Workplace Guidelines

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Google is fed up with employees expressing political opinions.

The company has issued new community guidelines on Thursday that address what employees are allowed to say within the company. According to the new rules, “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news” doesn’t “build community,” and employees should, therefore, “Avoid conversations that are disruptive to the workplace or otherwise violate Google’s workplace policies”

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“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,” the guidelines state.

Recode reports that Google sent out an email to employees on Thursday evening in which CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the revised guidelines.

A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the community guidelines will apply to company mailing lists as well as all internal conversations.

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Asked how Google will determine if a political debate qualifies as “raging” or “disruptive,” the spokesperson told Gizmodo the community management team will have to assess this. Community moderators will be tasked with monitoring conversations in group forums and will “intervene and redirect the conversation or in some cases, shut down or delete the thread entirely,” according to the spokesperson. The community management team will usually attempt to educate workers before disciplining them.

The company is also creating a “central flagging tool” that will allow workers to report comments.

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The guidelines show a strong shift from the “open communication culture” that Google used to be known for. But that culture has increasingly caused issues for Google over the last couple of years. Divisive discussions within the company first came to light in August 2017 with then-Google employee James Damore’s anti-diversity memo. But by most accounts that kind of internal disagreement is limited.

Google has also increasingly been facing political pressure as President Donald Trump lobs unfounded accusations about anti-conservative bias and censorship, and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz have “grilled” the company about their content moderation practices.

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The guidelines also say that Googlers can “raise concerns and respectfully question and debate the company’s activities.” But it advises caution in doing so.

“Be sure to speak with good information,” the guidelines say. “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.”

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The ominous warning seems to address employee activism, in the wake of recent protests against Google’s involvement in a Pentagon AI drone program, the company’s work on a censored search engine for China, and the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and assault cases.

The chilling effect that this will have across all areas of Google should be obvious. An employee may be afraid to bring up an idea for a product that would make the world a better place because the issue it addresses is political in nature. And if workers do continue to discuss political issues, they’ll be doing so at the risk of falling afoul of their manager’s subjective perception of the term “raging.” But at least Donald Trump will be happy to see the company bending its knees a little bit while he ramps up his attacks.

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About the author

Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo