Google released a new version of its employee guidelines Friday that discouraged discussion of politics, a break from the tech giant’s famously open culture.
The new community rules mandate that employees avoid “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story.”
“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 policy reads.
Asked about the reasoning for the change, a Google spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “Community guidelines 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,”
The company also announced it will hire a team of moderators who will mediate discussion on company forums.
“For conversations in Google group forums, we expect community moderators (Google employees who already run these groups) to step in to intervene and redirect the conversation or in some cases, shut down or delete the thread entirely,” the spokesperson said.
The company is creating a new tool to facilitate that moderation, dubbed the Central Flagging Tool, which will allow employees to raise alarms over potential rule violations. The feature will forward flagged posts to the new internal moderation team, which will review them on a case-by-case basis and may take disciplinary action, according to Google.
Google became famous for encouraging employees to discuss contentious ideas openly with one another, including on company message boards and in forums with executives. In light of the new rules, one employee lamented to Bloomberg: “This is the end of the important parts of Google’s open culture.”
The rules and tools come as a response to widening political divisions in the U.S. and several years of politically-charged scandals for Google, many of which originated from discussion in internal channels. Google engineer James Damore wrote a sexist memo in 2017 and circulated it on the company’s internal forums. He was fired. Another engineer, Kevin Cernekee, who claimed Google suppressed conservative candidates and views in search results gained the ear of the president. It later came to light that Cernekee had defended white nationalist groups in Google message boards.
An October 2018 investigation by the The New York Times revealed that Google paid the creator of Android $90 million after the company determined he had committed sexual misconduct. In response, employees organized via internal channels and walked out of Google in protest of pay discrimination.