New rules to address harassment issues in Google

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The new guidelines aim to control so-called trolling, where employees deliberately behave provocatively or offensively online to evince strong reactions.

In order to ensure the right workforce conduct among employees, Google has designed new internal rules to limit offensive language and personal attacks against fellow employees.

The Internet giant has formally sent a new set of guidelines to employees saying it would discipline anyone who discriminates against or attacks colleagues, or engages in discussions that are “disruptive to a productive work environment.”

The new guidelines are in place to control so-called trolling—wherein employees deliberately behave in a provocative or offensive manner online to evince strong reactions—as well as “blanket statements about groups or categories of people.”

The new rules have come nearly a year after Google fired a software engineer, James Damore, who wrote an internal memo saying gender differences might have something to do with women’s underrepresentation in the tech workforce. His memo and resulting dismissal ignited frenzied debate amongst employees. Some accused Google of wrongly firing an employee for expressing himself, while others said the Company hadn’t done enough to stand up for gender equality.

For Google, which has been acclaimed for its culture of open debate, the new rules pose a fresh challenge when it comes to policing employee speech, even while continuing to encourage free expression and unconventional thinking.

The Company has provided its nearly 80,000 employees a number of digital tools with which to share and argue over ideas internally. However, it has been facing difficulties in keeping those debates under control, with employees waging verbal wars over all manner of social and political beliefs on e-mail discussion groups and a message board called Memegen. It is inhibiting the productivity of the employees and is seen as a barrier to conducting business.

A review of the guidelines reveals that the rules are broad— asking employees to respect one another and honour Google’s values—and they leave room for interpretation about what type of conduct is prohibited.

To enforce its new rules, Google plans to leave much of the interpretation to its volunteer army of intranet moderators, who have day jobs at Google but in their spare time oversee discussion groups about anything from animal rights to sexual expression.

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