Over the past year, Google has been embroiled in a boatload of scandals centered on the way its employees treat each other. The company has now taken its first steps to put the kibosh on one underlying cause of these scandals: the company’s internal, employee community message boards.
On Wednesday, Google confirmed on Twitter that it released new “guidelines” this week for employees about what is and isn’t considered okay behavior on these boards. Most of them seem like common sense, including rules about thinking before you post and treating others with respect.
But the rules also pack a punch. Employees are warned that if they behave badly, they could face discipline. Over-the-top behavior is defined generally as posting material or comments, or making such comments in person, that doesn’t align with the company’s values or that “are disruptive to a productive work environment.”
Google is not shutting down its internal message boards, which are moderated by volunteers, the Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Macmillan reports. The search giant is, however, making it clear that the boards are officially no longer a free-for-all. Employees who start a discussion group are empowered to delete or remove over-the-top posts.
These new community standards have their roots in the 2017 scandal, when Google fired James Damore after one of his posts to the internal boards caused a national uproar. He argued that women are less suited to engineering than men, biologically speaking — an idea that’s been fiercely refuted by experts — and that the true problem with Silicon Valley is how it treats conservatives, a minority political affiliation in the Bay Area.
Tensions flew after that, on the boards and elsewhere. Lawsuits filed in the wake of the incident included messages posted on internal message boards by employees where people threatened to blacklist other employees. Some employees were “doxed,” their personal details, like a home address, leaked as a way to incite retaliatory behavior.
More recently, there was an employee uprising at Google, in which employees pressured the company not to work on projects for the military. Things got so heated that Google CEO Sundar Pichai bowed to the mob and promised, in its way, to never help the military build artificial intelligence-powered weapons.
However, one person close to the company said that the discussions on the boards regarding military contracts were actually largely civil and respectful, and would have been compliant with these new guidelines.
In any case, this latest uproar is still causing fallout. As Business Insider’s Greg Sandoval reports, one of Google’s star engineers is now on the hot seat: Dr. Fei-Fei Li who is leading its all-important artificial intelligence unit, is under scrutiny for her role in defending Project Maven, a project between Google and the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, employees have been told they will be held accountable if their posts to the internal boards cause scandals, wind up as evidence in lawsuits, or otherwise impact other employees and the company.
To be sure, the last year of scandals aren’t the first time Google employees have talked about the good, bad and ugly going on on these message boards. For instance, Google’s Memegen is infamous. It’s an internal site where employees create and share memes, many of them irreverent or political.
Way back in 2013, in fact, a Google employee involved in a discussion on Hacker News about the downsides of Google’s culture, described it like this: “There’s also the ones who think they’re still in college and don’t understand simple things such as being mature and respectful with your fellow Googlers. The latter you can see spending a lot of time posting passive aggressive memes on memegen.”
Here are the part of the new guidelines that Google tweeted out.