Google's new community guidelines tell employees not to talk politics on internal forums or bad mouth projects without 'good information'

Google's new community guidelines tell employees not to talk politics on internal forums or bad mouth projects without 'good information'

Sundar Pichai

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai

  • On Friday, Google unveiled its latest set of community guidelines for employee communication on internal message boards in an attempt to restore order within the walls of the Silicon Valley giant.
  • One of the company's main objectives is to do away with talk of politics and other non-work related issues that can be polarizing and led to deep divisions among employee groups.
  • Google also warned employees about speaking out against internal projects without having "good information" and re-enforced its security policy around data access and leaks.
  • As apart of its updates on Friday, Google employees will now have a one-click solution across all internal communication channels for flagging content as inappropriate or confidential.
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Google has a message for its employees: No more talk of politics or other polarizing topics on company time.

The new rules were announced Friday when Google unveiled its latest set of community guidelines for employees. It is meant 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."

Read more: Google is threatening to fire employees in a crackdown on leaks about 'need to know' projects

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 viewed by Business Insider, 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. It is not immediately clear which team inside of Google will be collecting the feedback and taking the appropriate action.

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