Employees playing politics – The Hindu BusinessLine

Clipped from: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/employees-playing-politics/article65378381.ece

Employees of social media firms have been vocal about political issues

Employees of social media firms have been vocal about political issues | Photo Credit: scyther5

Being politically vocal can muddy work culture

Elon Musk has said that he desires to return Twitter to its free speech origins now that he will be the new owner. This may be easier said than done given the concerns of regulators for the excessive hate that can be spewed online and calling for continued internal censorship. Yet, his greater concern should be the politicised culture of the company.

Tech companies, and social media ones in particular, seem to generate a work environment where the employees feel free to make their political views known, and not only try to influence company policy but drag down company strategy with it. Twitter was in a particular hot-spot since former US President Donald Trump used it as his primary means of communication provoking some group or the other.

Google employees protested against a company project that was developing a search engine that was compliant with Chinese censorship rules and they have also marched in a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration ban.

Google staff’s peeve

It is one thing for employees to protest some company policy that they feel goes against the ethics of the company, such as when Amazon employees protested the sale of their face recognition software to police department that they felt would be misused.

But when Google employees want to support Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and challenge the company decision to remove a pro-Hong Kong protester mobile game from its app store, then we are wading away from ethics into politics.

Facebook’s employees felt their company was slow to remove postings by Trump that were racist, and advertisements with white nationalist or Nazi content. They began challenging their senior leadership at company meetings and staging walkouts, all of which were widely reported by the media.

The Disney case

The most recent case of employees playing politics is even more interesting. Walt Disney Co. enjoys the status of a special tax district in Florida allowing it to govern the land on which it has its theme parks, water parks, sports complex, hotels and stores.

Although it pays property tax to the local counties, the company could manage other services like fire and medical emergency services, road maintenance, construct buildings and expand its parks without worrying about regulations regarding drainage, construction, etc. This allowed the company avoid bureaucratic hurdles and red tape and saved several million dollars a year.

That privilege, which it enjoyed for over 50 years, has been withdrawn by the Republican controlled legislature and governor of Florida as punishment for the company speaking out against a new state law. The law in question, called the Parental Rights in Education Law bars classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation till the 3rd grade and limits it for older students.

Like other sensible companies, Disney initially stayed silent on the issue but pressure started building up within the company with many employees wanting the company to oppose it. With 80,000 employees in the state, Disney then said it would oppose the bill and work towards its repeal. Now, the mission of Disney is ‘to entertain, inform and inspire people’ and be the world’s premier entertainment company. It is not an NGO that is fighting for political causes.

Media companies, perforce, walk a fine line when it comes to politics. But letting employees have a say in the political position of the company can’t be good for either the work culture or company strategy.

US CEOs had already started wading into politics when many publicly protested Georgia’s voting rights law last year. And Musk, we know, loves to rush in where angels fear to tread. In Twitter, he may feel at home.

The writer is an emeritus professor as Suffolk University, Boston

Published on May 03, 2022


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