Google has been removing questions from an internal company message board about its hiring of a former Department of Homeland Security staffer who once publicly defended the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban.
Ahead of an all-hands meeting on Thursday at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters, management twice deleted inquiries about Miles Taylor, the chief of staff of former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who joined the company last month as a government affairs and public policy manager. In response, some employees have expressed anger in emails and group messages, asking why the company hired and shielded a former Trump administration member who helped implement policies Google and its executives had previously protested.
On Wednesday, a question addressing Taylor’s hire on Dory, an internal service that allows employees to ask and vote on inquiries to be put to management, had garnered about 2,000 upvotes before being removed. BuzzFeed News reported Monday on Taylor’s hiring.
“Google has hired a former DHS Chief of Staff who defended policies including family separation and Muslim ban,” read one now-deleted post seen by BuzzFeed News, and confirmed by three employees. “Prior to hire, was the psychological safety of impacted communities at Google considered? How can we respect Google’s [diversity, equity, and inclusion] values and avoid hiring those who dehumanize marginalized groups?”
The backlash against Taylor’s employment and the subsequent attempts to squash discussion on the matter is just the latest struggle for the search and advertising behemoth to balance workers' free expression with corporate harmony. Last month, Google settled with the National Labor and Review Board over complaints that it had stifled workplace dissent, leading the company to confirm that it would not prevent employees from discussing workplace issues.
Google still has certain policies for workplace and political discussions, though the company declined to comment on why questions about Taylor’s hiring were removed. Two sources close to the company confirmed that two questions had been deleted because Google management considered them personal attacks, and confirmed that other questions about Taylor still remained on Dory.
A spokesperson for Google declined to comment when asked if Google execs would address Taylor’s hiring at Thursday’s all-hands meeting. Multiple sources told BuzzFeed News following the gathering that Google's Vice President of Public Affairs and Public Policy Karan Bhatia defended Taylor's employment by saying that he was not involved in drafting the original Muslim travel ban and wasn't involved in family separation.
As a counselor to then–acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke in 2017, Taylor called the screening and vetting standards at the country’s borders “no longer adequate to combat terrorism” as the agency recommended a “tough” and “tailored” policy to replace expiring parts of a Trump administration travel ban that barred visitors from six Muslim-majority countries. Taylor went on to serve as the deputy chief of staff and then chief of staff to Nielsen, whom Trump appointed to the top DHS role in December 2017. Nielsen oversaw the administration’s family separation policy for immigrants at the southern border in 2018 before resigning in April.
"I personally thought the answers on stage were an insult to our communities here at Google."
Google and its leaders had voiced their strong opposition to the Muslim travel ban and family separations occurring at the Mexico border. In January 2017, following the announcement of the original travel ban, Google cofounder Sergey Brin joined protesters at San Francisco International Airport, while Google CEO Sundar Pichai pointedly voiced his displeasure on Twitter, in an email to staff, and in a much-publicized employee meeting.
“The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching,” Pichai tweeted as the Trump administration ramped up its anti-immigration policy in the summer of 2018. “Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation. #keepfamiliestogether.”
The discussions about Taylor have spread to multiple employee groups on Twitter including those for Muslims, Iranians, Latinx members, activists, and the Women’s Walkout, which formed last year in the wake of stories about Google’s $90 million payout to an executive accused of sexual misconduct.
One employee wrote about how they were directly affected by the travel ban, and how they were thankful for the outpouring of support from their colleagues. Another cited their previous time in the State Department and noted that some civil servants serve despite what political party is in power because of civic duty. “Your job is to carry out the policies of the U.S. Government,” they wrote.
Another employee called the deletion of questions “in the name of ‘respect’” a “deeply misguided thing for Google to be doing” because of the power imbalance between a former Trump administration official and employees hoping to critique the company’s hiring of him.
“I find it ironic that leadership is worried about the hurt feelings of a single powerful person, but not about the message that their hiring has _already sent_ to Googlers who are threatened or directly impacted by violence at our border and borders around the world,” the person wrote.
“Serving as chief of staff to the person who oversaw the implementation of this country’s most cruel contemporary abuses of its great power feels like a totally different ballgame to me, and I think we’re right to be publicly questioning it,” they added.
Two Google employees confirmed that a second question regarding Taylor’s hiring was deleted on Thursday.
The deletions, however, only led to more questions. At least five more questions about the topic have popped up on Dory on Thursday afternoon, with a few landing in the top 10 based on upvotes.
At the all-hands meeting, which was attended by Pichai and Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker, Bhatia said there had been inaccuracies about how Taylor was being portrayed in press reports. He said that the new hire did not draft the original Muslim travel ban — despite going on record to defend a later version of the policy in September 2017 — and was not involved in family separation, which was implemented by his direct boss DHS Secretary Nielsen.
When BuzzFeed News asked Google and Taylor about the nature of Taylor's work at DHS on Monday, neither provided comment.
One employee said they felt "gaslit" by Bhatia, who went on to add at the meeting that Taylor was respected on both side of the aisle and would help with the company's government relations efforts.
"I personally thought the answers on stage were an insult to our communities here at Google," said one employee on an internal group. "And it's a missed opportunity to not have voiced an objection to them right there and then."
Another complained about how they spent the majority of the time discussing an extension on Google Chrome, the company's web browser; a minute on the hiring of Taylor; and no time on "the psychological safety issues" or the "censorship of questions."
"Honestly, we might get clearer answers about our foreign policy from the presidential debate in under 50 seconds," they joked.
Ryan Mac is a senior tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Ryan Mac at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O'Donovan at email@example.com.
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