Alphabet is the world’s third largest technology company by revenue, and is the holding company for Google, YouTube, Nest, Makani, and a host of other technology and bioscience companies. As the owner of the most-visited website in the world—with a 92 percent market share on Internet searches—Alphabet holds unprecedented power over what people can say and what information they can access in the digital public square.
The tech giant was created through a restructuring of Google in 2015, with the hopes of making Google and additional companies “cleaner and more accountable.” Alphabet’s controlling shareholder and previous CEO Larry Page identifies several company commitments on Alphabet’s website. These include conducting business with a “long-term view,” “improving the transparency and oversight of what [they’re] doing,” and “improving the lives of as many people as [they] can.”
With billions of people reliant on Alphabet on a daily basis, the corporation has become a de facto gatekeeper of information, entertainment, and more for anyone connected to the Internet. That’s why it’s so important that Alphabet respect the vast diversity of political and religious viewpoints represented by its massive customer and employee base.
Yet, with this massive societal weight on its shoulders, Alphabet’s overall score on the Viewpoint Diversity Score 2022 Business Index is just 9 percent—making it one of just 17 companies to land in single digits in the Index’s first year.
Alphabet has a long way to go in respecting religious and ideological diversity. Before we get into specific steps Alphabet should take to improve its track record on respecting viewpoint diversity, it’s important to note that the corporation failed to respond to shareholders via the Viewpoint Diversity Survey in late 2021. The survey asked the company about 27 specific areas related to its core activities in the market, workplace, and public square—used to assign the Company a score on the Viewpoint Diversity Score 2022 Business Index. Alphabet’s failure to respond led to a low score across 17 criteria on the Index and revealed a lack of concern for safeguarding free speech and religious liberty.
Looking closely at Alphabet’s market score, we found several red flags. Chief among them are the company’s unclear and imprecise terms in user policies, which allow employees to censor views they subjectively consider to be “beyond the pale.” For example, YouTube’s “Hate Speech Policy” omits any meaningful definition of hate speech. The closest it comes is its statement that it “remov[es] content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on a list of attributes.
[Read more about this issue from Viewpoint Diversity Score chief Jeremy Tedesco]
What constitutes “promoting violence or hatred” is anybody’s guess, and that lack of clarity has opened the door for YouTube’s censorship of Walt Heyer—a man who identified as a woman for years before detransitioning—and others, including prominent pastor John MacArthur. Meanwhile, similarly vague content moderation policies at YouTube were used by the platform as a pretext to deplatform a roundtable discussion on public policy featuring then-White House advisor Scott Atlas, along with a Harvard University biostatistician, an Oxford University epidemiologist, a Stanford Medical School economist, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Policies like Alphabet’s undermine a culture of free speech, where dissenting voices are allowed and even encouraged to challenge views held by those in power. That not only means scrubbing existing content from the digital public square, but also chilling speech from those who may be more hesitant to challenge entrenched orthodoxies when such challenges to the status quo are regarded as “hateful” or “objectionable.”
And the censorship doesn’t end with Alphabet’s internal policy. The Biden administration has shown a brazen willingness to pressure Big Tech companies—including Alphabet—to purge opinions from their platforms that public officials arbitrarily deem “disinformation.” Unfortunately, not one of the 50 companies on the 2022 Business Index confirmed that they disclose government requests to censor or restrict services to their shareholders or the public, which raises serious questions about the future of free speech in the digital marketplace of ideas.
Alphabet earned its highest marks in the workplace section, due in large part to its stated commitment to viewpoint diversity and strong prohibitions of religious discrimination inside its workforce. In addition to at least three references to respecting viewpoint diversity or synonymous terms in its CSR/ESG reports, Google also hosts an employee resource group (ERG) called the “Inter Belief Network,” which exists to “promote a diversity of beliefs.”
Additionally, in its language on “Inclusion at Google,” the company bills itself as one “where people of different views, backgrounds and experiences can come together and show up for one another.” Another affirmation of Google’s desire to be seen as a workplace inclusive of many points of view comes in a section on “Google Assistant,” where an employee writes that, “It’s super valuable when you have enough people with enough viewpoints to help us write for the diversity of audience that the Assistant actually reaches.” This is a practical example of why viewpoint diversity matters for companies that serve diverse communities – and why respecting everyone and integrating different perspectives into product and service design is essential for providing the best user experience possible.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Along with a litany of missed opportunities to foster religious diversity, our team found no publicly accessible policy that explicitly affirms a minimum degree of respect for freedom of religion and viewpoint diversity in the workforce, nor any policy respecting the exercise of civil rights like free speech outside of work.
More bad news arises upon review of Google’s mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) training. As journalist Christopher Rufo documents, Google’s program relies heavily on divisive concepts that claim, in part, that all Americans are “raised to be racist.”
As Rufo concludes:
In 2015, Google quietly ditched its corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil.” Maybe the company, which has now become the world’s library, should revisit that decision. There is no doubt that racism is a social evil, but instead of tackling it head-on, some employees at Google appear to have succumbed to the latest pernicious academic fads, including “antiracism.” The reality is that a company like Google could only have achieved such success in the United States and that, whatever its flaws, America remains the most tolerant, welcoming, and diverse society in history. Google, which has attracted the best and the brightest from around the world, should know better.
But Alphabet has not only turned its back on the very societal conditions that fostered its success; it’s actively tearing apart that very fabric. Nowhere is this more clearly evident than the company’s zero percent score on the public square section of the Index.
For example, well over half of Alphabet’s political spending supports U.S. congressional and senatorial candidates who sponsored or cosponsored legislation that would harm free speech and religious freedom. The company also directly supports the so-called “Equality Act,” which is federal legislation that seeks to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to the same level of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in federal law. This proposal poses a deliberate and unprecedented threat to free speech, religious freedom, and the progress that women have made toward true equal treatment under the law.
In practice, the Equality Act would coerce people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. It would harm equal treatment of women by forcing them to compete against men in their own athletic events and share private spaces with men. It would harm religious freedom by coercing uniformity of thought and speech relating to beliefs about marriage, sex, and what it means to be male and female.
Despite these dangers, companies like Alphabet—which is a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Business Coalition for the Equality Act”—are wielding their sizeable political and economic clout to make the Equality Act law.
How Alphabet can improve
As one of the most influential corporations in the world, Alphabet has a unique opportunity to model what it looks like to embrace viewpoint diversity. It should encourage transparency and tolerance for various viewpoints among its employees and make it clear to vendors and users that they won’t be discriminated against because of their religious or political views.
Fortunately, there are steps social media companies like Alphabet can take to help restore public trust in their brands and services. The Index benchmarks, along with our model policies, provide an excellent starting point for reform.
Along with steering clear of supporting legislative attempts to rob Americans of First Amendment protections, another major takeaway for Alphabet is that it should publicly disclose any request or recommendation from governments to restrict users’ access to content or services. These disclosures should specifically include the name of any government entity making take-down or censorship requests, the nature of each action requested, and the company’s response to each request.