The internet, the greatest global innovation since the printing press, has had a number of unintended consequences. And like the printing press, we have been slow to adapt to the most significant negative consequence -- the ability to manipulate and bully others under a veil of relative anonymity.
The responsibility of policing and regulating the internet is a debate that has and will continue to rage. For now, businesses have been leading activists in encouraging civil discourse within their organizations. Google is one of these companies, and this week continued its efforts to impact the discourse of its employees -- at least internally.
According to Doug MacMillan of the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed on Twitter by Google, the company issued a set of "community guidelines" meant to set expectations for online conduct by its roughly 72 thousand employees worldwide.
Google had long been known for it simple set of values and straight-forward code of conduct, which included the phrase, "Don't be evil," until earlier this year when the company reorganized and published a much more detailed code of conduct.
The new community guidelines released this week start with a simple statement about respect, as is currently ingrained in the Google Values: "Respect the user, respect the opportunity, and respect each other."
It then encourages its employees to engage in a "safe, productive, and inclusive environment for everyone" and warns that anyone active in discussions or behavior that is deemed disruptive or infringing on the values of the company could be met with disciplinary actions.
What is interesting is that Google concludes with its own C.Y.A. (cover your ass-ets) disclosure, reminding everyone that while many correspondences are internal, these electronic systems "leave a footprint and may be discoverable in court or shared externally without your permission."
The guidelines are not unique, and Google is constantly updating its policies as technologies and attitudes evolve. The timing is interesting, however, as it comes during a tumultuous time when there seems to be a great divide between our communities. The internet and social media were once seen to bridge the gap between peoples and cultures but now seems to be driving a wedge deeper instead.
For this reason, I applaud Google for taking a stance and "officially" encouraging its tens of thousands of employees to act responsibly and respectfully and setting an expectation that doing otherwise could meet with discipline.
Of course, this simple set of rules will be met with critique, specifically questions about what will be considered a breach. Google has long encouraged open dialogue to promote diversity of ideas and more creativity, and these guidelines -- and any later actions taken against individuals that may result -- will likely be seen as an infringement of its own policy as well as free speech and expression.
Google has indicated that it will leave moderation up to the large team of volunteer moderators, and issues will be handled by HR.
Google has not been without its issues in regards to online behavior. A year ago, the company fired James Damore, an employee who released a memo internally about his controversial opinion of women in technology. In addition to multiple lawsuits, Damore's termination caused a huge debate between those who felt Google did not do enough and those who felt the company broke against its own set of open expression values.
The fact that Google took a year after the Damore incident to release a set of guidelines demonstrates the tremendous amount of consideration management needed to make around this sensitive topic. Regardless, Google is one of the largest companies with talented employees and a worldwide impact, so taking this measure now, when we need it, feels admirable and hopefully acts as a model that other companies will follow.
What do you think about Google's Community Guidelines? Is the company acting as a role model or are they overstepping their authority? Share your comments with others below.