Tech

Google bans political discussion on internal mailing lists

Key Points
  • Google on Friday released a new set of community guidelines that are meant to crack down on what employees can say inside the company.
  • Under the new rules, the company discourages workers from talking about politics on Google's internal mailing lists and forums.
  • The new policies are a stark diversion from the internal culture Google has become known for, which has historically encouraged employees to challenge and debate each other.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google I/O keynote session at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California on May 7, 2019.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

Google on Friday released a new set of community guidelines that are meant to crack down on what employees can say inside the company.

Employees are now barred from making statements that "insult, demean, or humiliate" other employees,  the company's extended workforce, business partners or others. The rules also discourage Google employees from engaging in a "raging debate over politics or the latest news story" and to avoid conversations that are generally disruptive.

"Our primarily 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 policy states.

The rules explicitly discourage workers from talking about politics on Google's internal mailing lists and forums.

"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," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

"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 guidelines are official policy and apply when employees are communicating in the workplace."

As part of the move, Google is also making changes to how it moderates discourse and enforces the new community guidelines on internal forums and mailing lists.

It's rolling out a "central flagging tool" that lets employees report content that may violate Google's rules and putting in place a new team of community managers that can review those flagged posts, a Google spokesperson said. Moderators will first try to educate employees on why they may have violated the rules, but can also enforce disciplinary actions where they see fit.

The new policies are a stark diversion from the internal culture Google has become known for. The company has traditionally fostered a culture of free speech and debate inside the company, with employees often getting into heated conversations about political and social issues.

This has led to extensive turmoil inside the company over what the limits of employee free speech should be. Many current and former Google employees have spoken out publicly about the issue.

Earlier this month, former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee claimed he was fired for being an outspoken conservative and alleged that Google fosters a culture of politically biased bullying. In 2017, James Damore, a former Google engineer, also claimed the company discriminated against him and others for having conservative views.

Last year, a group of liberal employees organized walkout protests for policies against sexual harassment. One of the employees who led the movement and later left the company alleged continued retaliation from Google's top brass.

Google has also faced heightened scrutiny from President Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers who have accused the company of anti-conservative bias.

Another section of the guidelines encourages Google employees to be careful when discussing company activities publicly, instructing workers to not make false or misleading statements about Google products or businesses that could "undermine trust" in the company.

Read Google's new community guidelines in full below:

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.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct year former Google engineer James Damore claimed he was fired for his conservative views.