Free Speech

Google Cracks Down on Employees' Political Speech

The unsurprising result of conservatives complaining about Big Tech bias: less speech, not more

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Google is attempting to curtail its employees' workplace speech on political subjects. This is a departure from the company's previous policy of openness to political speech, and it is likely a result of conservatives' persistent claims that Google is biased against them.

This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.

News of Google's change of heart with respect to internal speech comes from Recode's Shirin Gaffary, who writes:

Google has long been known for allowing and even encouraging employees to debate and organize around controversial topics, including its product launches and national politics. That's caused problems for the company, particularly as it's scaled in size in an increasingly polarized political climate.

Shortly after President Trump was elected in 2016, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in an all-hands company meeting that he found the election "deeply offensive" as "an immigrant and a refugee." He remarked that "many people apparently don't share the values that we have." Almost two years later, Breitbart News leaked video of that meeting, fueling conservative claims (including from President Trump himself) that the company is biased against Republicans.

Under the new policies, Google employees will be prevented from making statements that "insult, demean, or humiliate" the company's employees, business partners, or "others"—including public figures. A Google spokesperson confirmed to Recode that those public figures would include elected officials such as Trump.

Employees won't be allowed to engage in heated political debates that, for example, encourage or organize employees to vote for or against a specific candidate.

Many on the right were upset about the firing of James Damore, who penned an internal memo criticizing the company's diversity measures. I can understand and even sympathize with some of these gripes—yes, many Big Tech companies are disproportionately staffed and run by progressives, who take a less favorable view of conservative speech than liberal speech—but putting the fear of God (or, worse, the federal government) into them may very well backfire.

When Google, Facebook, or Twitter employees discussing how much they dislike President Donald Trump is treated as proof of bias, the companies will have an incentive to crack down on all political speech. They are private entities, and they have the right to set whatever policies regarding employee speech that they think are more conducive to a healthy workplace—but the public freakout over their alleged biases might well tip the scales in the direction of less speech, period.

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    1. Would you like to be?

      1. If one of the hijackers had just showed up in the ER with cutaneous anthrax, which would not be “skin irritation “ or a single lesion and not been diagnosed and aggressively treated he would probably have died…………………
        …….. Read More

    2. James Damore has been memory-holed.

      This is more embarassing than anything Shikha or Sheldon Richman ever wrote. Well, not really. But in their league.

      1. James Damore was name-checked in the article as part of the explanation for why this policy came about. That’s hardly being “memory-holed”.

        1. Bullshit, the policy came about because Google is scrambling to avoid the hammer coming down from their continual abuse of Section 230 protections. Even without Damore they would be doing everything in their power to cover the bias that pervades their company.

          1. cover-up is what that should read.

    3. Good for Google. Politics has no place in the workplace. Or in polite conversation, for that matter.

      1. Especially when one’s employment in an area or industry is affected by that bias. And don’t try the old trope “speech has consequences”, the most important aspect of an employee’s contribution has to be providing the company’s services to the best of their ability. So far as I know, who someone voted for has very little to do with that, especially in STEM fields.

    4. I’m working on it.
      But it does take some time.
      Be patient.

  1. OR – – – –
    Those damn pesky employees were starting to think they could make the company pick and choose which products to develop and sell, which was impacting the bottom line. And that was cutting into the big boys bonuses and stock values. So “no more”.
    Like ‘do not sell to the US government’.
    Like ‘Sell to the communist Chinese’.

    1. shhhh, you’ll blow their cover

  2. “This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.”

    I don’t think the right will attack tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives. If anything, the right will consider this a win for shutting down their enemies.

    1. My thoughts too. Conservatives are probably snickering pretty loudly at those poor poor progtards.

    2. First, it is dishonest that he is still characterizing it as “perceived” bias. We have plenty of anecdotes and proof. However, that is Reason’s thing to downplay the right’s proven criticisms and provide false equivalences for the left’s bad actions.
      Second, it is ignorant to think that this means google will be shutting down political speech. I’ve been in work environments where talking about politics was forbidden, yet somehow leftist talking points were constantly overlooked. I would assume that’s what google will continue to do which is essentially par for the course where they shut down conservative speech

      1. that would be bias against conservatives, right?

    3. Oh noes! They’ll censor the Left too? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

      #OneSetOfRules

  3. This is a departure from the company’s previous policy of openness to political speech…

    Um…

    1. LOL doesn’t even cover it

    2. Google? Google was ever all about openness? “Who funds Reason?”

    3. Well sure. Before they were all about openness to progressive speech only. Now they have signaled that right-thinking people have to be a little more circumspect, at least until the next un-corrupt election.

    4. Look at what you conservatives (who would not have a job five minutes if you talked openly about your political beliefs) made them do!

      Kind of like the Kulaks being ultimately responsible for the general oppression of the Soviet Union.

      1. Conservatives pounce!
        Conservatives complain!
        Conservatives made them do it!

    5. Google has historically been quite open internally. Employees could wear their politics on their sleeve, and it was encouraged. One of Ron Paul’s big rallies in 2008 was at Google. He was invited to speak there by a Google employee, and the event hosted by Google itself. Despite 98% of employees being Democrat.

      But times change. Nowadays team colors are everything and conformity of thought is mandated.

  4. “This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship”

    I’m not certain why this is a problem in the workplace. If I were a conservative and the tone in the office went from “running political rally” back towards something more like a functional, respectful, apolitical workplace, I wouldn’t think that would be a problem.

    “the companies will have an incentive to crack down on all political speech”

    Do you mean in their products? I’m not sure what you mean here. Do you still mean inside their company?

    1. Poor Robby doesn’t even understand “both sides” tobesureism anymore

    2. I’m not certain why this is a problem in the workplace. If I were a conservative and the tone in the office went from “running political rally” back towards something more like a functional, respectful, apolitical workplace, I wouldn’t think that would be a problem.

      As someone who used to work where it was acceptable behavior to march around chanting “Yes We Can” I can appreciate this. I don’t want to be neck deep in culture war bullshit at work. All I want to do is the work I’m being paid to do. Who the fuck has time for this shit at work?

      1. “As someone who used to work where it was acceptable behavior to march around chanting “Yes We Can” I can appreciate this.”
        What have you got against Bob the Builder?

        1. Spud creeped him out.

      2. I once worked in an office where they had hung a five foot portrait of Obama in the lunch room. Thankfully no political discussion around my office, but it still awkward seeing his Stalinesque portrait looming over you. Private company, the president could do what he wanted, but still tasteless.

    3. I’m with you. I have no idea why the author thinks this is a problem when it’s explicitly limited to Google employees, not customers. Pretty much all responsible companies prohibit their employees from ranting and raving on cultural, religious or political topics. You have a right to free speech in your private capacity. At work, you’re supposed to, you know, work.

      (Exceptions, of course, for political discussions that are actually relevant to your work. It would be entirely relevant and appropriate, for example, for Google employees to discuss and have strong opinions about the proposed changes to Sec 230.)

      1. Its weird how reason Blanca the supported the open censorship when it was just the conservative voices shut down through claims of “Private Company!”, yet is now upset when all political talk is shut down.

  5. What happened to “Google is a private company, they can do what they want”?

  6. Am I the only one that thinks this is really about their employees complaint about Google cozying up to China? Blaming Republicans just seems convenient.

    1. As they think that conservatives are worse than the Chinese government, no.

  7. So robby does prefer one sided speech with retaliatory threats more than no sided speech. This is called propaganda robbie. Didnt work out well for USSR or Germany. Maybe a bit for mao. But usually it isnt something one supports.

    1. “It’s only bad when you do it to us too!”

  8. Or it may have nothing to do with. conservatives per se and everything to do with the hothouse flowers working there being offended at every little minor disagreement and causing workplace strife. Arguably, the Damore situation could be the proximate cause as it showed anyone with a ruthless streak that they could get a coworker terminated for having an unpopular opinion.

  9. Google has a right to limit a person’s speech while at work.
    Just like they have a right to censor any speech they don’t like on their site (read conservative speech).
    Which only goes to show you what a bunch of fascist ass wipe there are running Google.
    Goebbels would be so proud.

    1. Reason is all “muh private property” until the Left is silenced too.

      1. Reason’s idea of discourse is not a pendulum that moves freely, but a ratchet that only moves in one direction.

  10. I can’t go around my organization building groups around my various political pet projects – it would immediately cause great divisions within the company, erode team building and result in massive customer relations issues down the road.

    This is a smart move from a business perspective. Provide a solid platform that works well and leave your politics at the door. If you start pushing various political projects, your consumers will voice complaints.

    I don’t see any issues here.

  11. Reaching pretty far there on the claims that Cons calling for less ‘Google censorship’ on its platform has anything to do with how political speech is allowed in the office environment. It was quite clear that having an unpopular opinion was reason to black list and seek to torpedo a person’s career.

  12. So, Google now instead of just silencing/firing conservatives are going to silence the lefties too?

    And I am supposed to be upset by this?

    Of course it is total bullshit. You know Google is not going to drop the hammer on their little snow flake commies.

    1. “Of course it is total bullshit. You know Google is not going to drop the hammer on their little snow flake commies.”

      Ding ding!

      This is just another selective enforcement initiative. When they fire only conservatives, they’ll site their political beliefs. Meanwhile the patients will continue to run the asylum un-questioned.

      But, yeah! It’s the Conservatives fault!!!

      1. My point exactly. The prior policy was open engagement, but as we’ve seen it wasn’t open for anyone using “wrong think.” What’s to make me believe that them shutting down any engagement on certain subjects will also be applied to “right think?”

      2. They won’t cite political beliefs when they fire conservatives, they’ll cite the violation of the company’s “no political speech” rule. And if the person fired says, “But Dave was talking about [political subject x] and I just told him what I thought about it,” the HR guy will say, “Nobody complained about Dave, so clearly you were the only one in violation of the policy.”

        And if fired guy happens to have a recording, they’ll fire Dave too, but they won’t worry too much, because they know that Dave must have been guilty of some kind of wrongthink. Either that or they might say to him, on his way out the door, “We had to fire you, because [fired guy] proved that you were in violation of the policy, and if we don’t let you go, he’ll be able to successfully sue us. But we’re going to advertise your position tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure you’ll qualify. We’ll give you a signing bonus for the pay you miss. Oh, and take this thing home and work on it.”

  13. So Conservatives should have shut up about being censored, blackballed, or ostracized at work so as to keep the pretense of “free speech”? Do you really fail to understand the very reason they spoke out was because they were already censored? Sure… they are still censured but at least they aren’t treated unfairly (assuming Google manages to pull this off without bias… I’m not holding my breath).

    That’s like saying a whipping boy who complains about the whip is the reason he is about to get whipped and should have kept his mouth shut while he continues to be whipped regardless.

  14. Is Robby going for a staff slot at The Atlantic? He’s gonna have to increase the size of his articles by 30,000 words or so.

  15. This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.

    Yeah, it would be better if they just stayed quiet and had progressivism shoved down their throats.

    Sheesh.

  16. Surely, this is just clickbait whoring. Something published in Reason should contain at least a smattering of logic, right?

    1. Perhaps you should ‘Google’ the business model of internet publishing. Clickbait is not whoring, it is more like procuring.
      True, the customer gets screwed either way, but who gets the most of the money?

  17. Google cracked down on non PC speech (James Damore incident wasn’t that long ago) which is one of the reasons why they drew the ire of conservatives in the first place. They’re being sued by Damore and maybe a few more, and the with the heat now on them from all sides, they’re trying to nip the problem in the bud by forbidding political speech of all kind.

    If Youtube forbade political content on their platform from the beginning, most political content creators would not have spent time and money on videos to upload on YT. Crowder, PragerU and Young Turks would be elsewhere. Banning political talk in the office is a and enforceable standard. To say “Our TOS can mean whatever we wish it to mean at any given moment” is within their rights but clearly unfair to content creators.

  18. At this point I really can’t do anything but shake my head at the nonsense that has become Reason.

  19. It’s pretty obvious that this policy is a specific response to Project Veritas revelations, nothing will change at Google except the ease of finding a paper trail.

  20. Google is attempting to curtail its employees’ workplace speech on political subjects. This is a departure from the company’s previous policy of openness to political speech, and it is likely a result of conservatives’ persistent claims that Google is biased against them.

    The unsurprising result when you’re accused of being biased or not even-handed. When your instinct is to suppress point of view A no matter what, you then suppress all points of view rather than let point of view A thrive.

    If only conservatives had just bent over and taken it, we wouldn’t be here.

    1. This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.

      Just take it with grace and dignity, conservatives. Otherwise they might suppress the left, too, and then we have a problem.

      1. Lie back and think of the 1st Amendment.

    2. but putting the fear of God (or, worse, the federal government) into them may very well backfire.

      Perhaps Google might have re-hired James Damore with a loud, public apology and fired anyone who harassed him within the company, then we might not be here. But no, they double, triple and quadrupled down. Fuck ’em, and everyone ‘at looks like ’em.

  21. Conservative voices seem to dominate youtube, at least in regards to view counts. Google knows this so if they have to remain equal their political opponents carry on unhindered. They are a business though and could just go with it and replace complaining staff. This isn’t a free speech issue though. They can pick and choose, but if liability is placed on them for the posts they will stop all posts until reviewed by staff. (If even that. Watch youtube become a netflix -style service 100%)
    Platforms allowing you to speak is not your right nor is it their obligation to give you a place to do so. You can make your own site. You just won’t be able to use their infrastructure to reach the masses or have them cover the costs. We’ve become spoiled to where we think a company not providing us a place to display our mush mouths is infringing on free speech.

    1. Conservative voices seem to dominate youtube, at least in regards to view counts.

      WTF? The most watched videos are *overwhelmingly* music videos. Shave off the music videos and product reviews and unboxing videos are next. Under that, you get to something that might be political, ‘vlogs’. Even then the majority of vlogs are apolitical and/or instructional in nature; makeup tutorials, fitness, home improvement, DIY, etc. Occasionally, viral videos rise to the ranks (and then fall off) but, unless every music video, product unboxing, and how-to video is inherently conservative (which many very prominantly are not), conservatives can’t/don’t dominate with regard to view counts.

      1. I meant as in regards to political content. What’s being removed. No one cares about music videos unless you’re a conservative in the late 80’s or 90’s. My apologies for not clarifying that. You are right.

    2. They can pick and choose, but if liability is placed on them for the posts they will stop all posts until reviewed by staff. (If even that. Watch youtube become a netflix -style service 100%)

      First, YouTube is already becoming a netflix-style service. Second, just like every other disingenuous piece of shit on the topic, you’ve portrayed it as an “If we allow the cart to be placed behind the horse, free speech on the internet/YT will parish/suffer”.

      Google/YT moderates. There is no question. The people looking to hold them liable for their speech are selectively and overtly saying that they should be held liable for the speech which they moderate. This was the case before Section 230 was passed. Courts found Prodigy liable for information published on message boards they moderated “heavily” and found Compuserv not liable for which they overtly did not moderate.

      Given your absolute inaccuracy and backwardness on the subject, I think your assertion that ‘conservatives dominate youtube’ is more likely another inversion of the truth.

  22. This is the only sane policy. Politics is fundamentally about pitting groups of people against each other, so allowing it in the workplace will eventually destroy employee morale via creating an unending series of conflicts. The only beneficiaries are the partisans of the largest faction, who can occasionally advance their causes by wielding the company as a weapon against their political foes, while it hurts all other employees and shareholders.

  23. It’s a good policy. The days when coworkers could rationally and respectfully discuss politics over the drinking fountain are long behind us. Once a company leans too much one way or another, the pressure to conform politically is intense.

    At my own company, quite tiny in comparison to Google, productivity almost came to a standstill in 2016 during the election. People were not working, people are fighting each other in increasingly loud and strident words. Even today there are employees who loudly shout across the floor about the latest Trump tweet. Loudly and obnoxiously. Challenge their assertion and they’re suddenly in your face challenging you.

    To state one’s political tilt, let alone party membership, is to declare half the workforce your mortal enemy. To declare oneself independent, or god forbid, a libertarian, is to become the mortal enemy of both sides.

    I am not at work to politically proselytize. I’m at work to do my work. If we could get back to the days when political discussion was muted and respectful, fine. We are not there and returning to it does not seem an option.

    Modern political discourse is just too hateful and toxic for the productive workplace. We are not being paid to hate, we are being paid to work.

    1. But people can’t be muted and respectful when the other side is literally StalinHitler.

  24. Did Nick Gillespie ghostwrite this, and slap Robby Soave’s byline on it? Did Soave get shot in the head, and undergo a complete personality change? This, er, thing, is so stupid and dishonest that only a radical explanation will do.

    “Google is attempting to curtail its employees’ workplace speech on political subjects. This is a departure from the company’s previous policy of openness to political speech, and it is likely a result of conservatives’ persistent claims that Google is biased against them.”

    Google Marxists have had free speech at work for years, and nothing is changing, in that respect. Indeed, many of those Marxists (aka feminists, etc.) were hired by Google for the express purpose of being Red Guard cadrists. Meanwhile, the company has viciously curtailed non-Marxists’ political speech for several years, by the tactic of soliciting it, and then firing them for it. If the company ever had a “policy of openness to political speech,” it was many years ago, before most present employees ever worked there. The notion that “conservatives” are at fault for an imaginary change of policy, is a bald-faced lie. (Heck, most self-styled conservatives have supported the repression.)

    “This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.”

    So, heads we win, tails you lose. If you had remained silent about political repression at Google, the repression would have continued unabated. But since you complained, the repression will … continue unabated, only you will be blamed for it.

    This thing isn’t about Google at all, but the expression of a pc pose at reason, whereby imaginary “conservatives” are made “Goldsteins,” i.e., ideological whipping boys.

  25. This should serve as a warning for the right: Attacking tech companies for perceived bias toward conservatives—and explicitly threatening government intervention—is likely to make the companies default toward even more censorship.

    Those uppity German Jews in the 30s and 40s didn’t listen and look at what happened to them! When Google or any other oppressor comes for the people around you, the obvious and best solution is to shut the hell up and hope they never come for you. Learn the lessons of history you backwater conservative hicks!

  26. ??? This seems like a good result.

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