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Some employees chafe as Google's new internal rules take hold

As part of guidelines, all Google message boards now have an employee who serves as a moderator, but the company said shutting down or deleting threads is a last resort.

Ryan Gallagher | Bloomberg 


A controversial new hire at has provided a test of the company’s new community guidelines, which it says are an effort to curb increased incivility at work. But some employees say the new rules smack of censorship.

Tensions at the company have flared over the hiring of Miles Taylor, who previously served as chief of staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as a government affairs and public policy manager. Some employees have accused Taylor of helping to support the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies.

Karan Bhatia, Google’s global policy chief, told employees in a staff meeting last week that Taylor wasn’t involved in the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the US southern border. But on October 28, BuzzFeed News published emails showing that Taylor had in fact shaped talking points for Nielsen on the administration’s detention of migrant children.

On an internal message board on October 29 and 30, employees posted memes that cited parts of the BuzzFeed News report and accused Bhatia of misleading employees, according to three employees and messages seen by Bloomberg News.

At least two of those memes were deleted by company moderators, according to the three Google employees, who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorised to talk to the press. The action was considered unusual because Google has historically encouraged open debate, including on its widely used internal message boards.

“It’s censorship. It can’t be described as anything else,” said a Google software engineer who has worked for the company for more than five years. “They are trying to shut down any criticism of him and his work with the DHS.”

Board moderators

The incident is the second case in about a week in which Google has reportedly acted to shut down criticism of Taylor’s hiring. On October 24, ahead of an all-staff meeting, the company removed questions about his appointment from Dory, an internal website on which employees vote on topics that they want management to address, BuzzFeed News reported.

Alphabet’s Google confirmed that it had removed several memes and a question from Dory that had violated the new guidelines, which were introduced in August. The company said it continues to welcome debate but not if it involves attacking or trolling colleagues, or calling them names.

As part of guidelines, all Google message boards now have an employee who serves as a moderator, but the company said shutting down or deleting threads is a last resort.

Taylor declined to comment. He was hired as Google continues to try to build stronger ties with Republicans after being criticised for pulling out of a military cloud contract and being accused of bias against conservatives in search results.

The moderator who deleted the memes defended the decision. “We don’t allow personal attacks on individuals, including memes that exist to humiliate or make Google unwelcoming for a coworker,” the person wrote in a post on Thursday, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News.

The moderator’s actions attracted widespread discussion inside Google, with one employee arguing that it was wrong to attack a new colleague while others insisted that hiring Taylor was itself a violation of Google’s guidelines on diversity and inclusion, according to a worker.

One meme, which wasn’t removed and was viewed by Bloomberg News, featured an image from the “The Matrix” in which Keanu Reeves’ character, Thomas Anderson, has his mouth sealed up during an interrogation so that he can’t make a phone call. The image contained the caption: “Tell me, Mr. Anderson: What good is it to expose your company’s connection to child imprisonment when your community is ‘moderated’?”

The latest clash between rank-and-file employees and Google executives comes after more than 18 months of worker discontent at the company. Employees last year organised a global walkout over the company’s handling of sexual harassment complaints and launched internal campaigns against some Google projects, including a censored search engine in China and a contract with the Pentagon to analyse drone footage.

First Published: Sun, November 03 2019. 00:01 IST