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Monday, August 26, 2019

Google Cracks Down on Employees' Political Speech

By Robby Soave - August 26, 2019 at 03:55PM

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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