Muting Memegen | Google to limit employee messaging forum features after arguments about war in Gaza

Google to limit employee messaging forum features after arguments about war in Gaza

Google is set to scale back features on an internal messaging board after posts about the war in Gaza turned into angry debates.

The messaging board, called Memegen, has been used by employees at Google to share memes on a range of topics – including self-deprecating jokes about Google failures – since its creation by two engineers in 2010.

The New York Times revealed the plans, which include scrapping the option to mark a post with a ‘thumbs’ down and a counter that shows the popularity of a given post.

Employees have been using the platform for over a decade as a platform to make jokes that indicate their feelings toward company leadership and policies, even responding to events and all-hands meetings in real-time.

However, disagreements about the war in Gaza have consistently spilled out of posts on the messaging board, prompting Google to experiment with “common industry practices similar to what other internal and external social platforms have done,” according to a spokesperson from the tech giant.

The spokesperson noted that the changes are reportedly due to employee feedback that negative reactions, including a thumbs down, made people upset. This echoes a memo viewed by the Times where moderators described employees voting posts thumbs down en-masse as a “bullying tactic.” Complaints reportedly spiked in the second half of 2023.

The spokesperson also said the changes, which will happen this year, were in response to employee feedback, adding that the thumbs down can make people feel bad.

Some Google employees are unhappy with the changes to the messaging board, with one worker suggesting the intervention is designed to “kill Memegen” in a post on the platform itself – they received 8,000 likes on the post.

Much of the debate on Memegen has stemmed from Google’s Project Nimbus, in which the company provides cloud computing to the Israeli government as part of a $1.2billion contract.

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Hundreds of Google employees have protested the contract since 2021, and one employee was recently fired for protesting during a presentation at Google’s Israel branch, shouting “I refuse to build technology that powers genocide or surveillance.”

Managing political disagreements in the workplace

Google is not the only employer making changes to internal messaging platforms following debates and disagreements. Apple has also faced criticism from employees after taking down Slack posts and channels for Jewish and Muslim employees that included discussions about the Israel-Hamas war.

Taylor Bradley, Head of HRBPs, L&D, and Compensation at Turing, and a member of CNBC's Workforce Executive Council, has previously advised HR Grapevine on the topic of managing political debates in the workplace.

“Employers are free to curtail most speech but should be cautious about restricting freedom of expression,” Bradley suggests. “The ability to express a difference in opinion highlights the beauty of the freedom to do it. One not granted to everyone in this world. We focus on providing frameworks for team members to successfully navigate natural points of friction and outlets to express any concerns.”

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