Google Video Reveals Executive Reaction to 2016 Election

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A man walks past a building on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

A man walks past a building on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.


Photo:

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

A newly surfaced video that shows Google executives lamenting the 2016 presidential election in an all-staff meeting days after President Trump’s victory offers a glimpse into how the tech giant discusses political issues with employees and comes as Silicon Valley faces accusations of stifling conservative voices.

“Most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election,” Sergey Brin,

Alphabet
Inc.


GOOGL -0.35%

president and Google co-founder, said in opening the employee town-hall meeting in November 2016. “Myself, as an immigrant and a refugee, I certainly find this election deeply offensive, and I know many of you do too.”

Google is increasingly under scrutiny on many issues, including data privacy, election interference by foreign actors and allegations of political bias. Mr. Trump has complained that Google’s search results are “rigged.” Google has said its search results don’t account for ideological viewpoints.

The company was criticized by lawmakers last month after it declined to send Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page for a hearing on election interference that also included testimony from Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey. During their testimony, there was an empty chair, with a name placard for Mr. Page next to them.

In response to the video, which was published by the conservative website Breitbart, Google said: “At a regularly scheduled all-hands meeting, some Google employees and executives expressed their own personal views in the aftermath of a long and divisive election season. Everyone at Google has been able to freely express their opinions at these meetings.”

“Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products,” the company said in a written statement.

During the 2016 meeting, Eileen Naughton, vice president of Google’s people operations, said, “I think it’s fairly obvious that Google leans largely liberal and Democratic.” She was among several executives who expressed frustration with Mr. Trump’s win, while also urging employees to respect the democratic process.

Kent Walker, Google’s legal chief, said populist movements like those that propelled Mr. Trump’s campaign were driven by xenophobia and hatred. “We do think that history is on our side,” he said.

During the meeting, several Google employees took aim at the company’s technology, accusing Google of helping amplify conspiracy theories and fake stories about candidates within some groups of YouTube and search engine users. “Can Google do anything to try to figure this out?” one employee in the crowd asked.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said Google would do more to understand the potential negative effects of the company’s algorithms on the variety of information shown to users, and Mr. Walker acknowledged the power of Google’s platform.

“While it may be that the internet and globalization were part of the cause of this problem, we are also fundamentally an essential part of the solution to this problem,” Mr. Walker said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for a meeting later this month with a number of state attorneys general to discuss a “growing concern” that tech giants, including Google, are allegedly hurting competition and intentionally stifling conservative voices on their platforms.

Google is known for its culture of open debate at work, which in its extreme form can create a cacophony of fractious voices sparring over social and political beliefs.

Since Mr. Trump’s election, a number of high-tech workers have told The Wall Street Journal that they feel a right and responsibility to shape how their firms deploy their resources.

“You have some ownership,” said one Google engineer who opposed a contract, known as Project Maven, that the company had with the Pentagon. Google decided in June not to renew the contract after employees protested the use of the company’s drone-related technology for military purposes.

The employee said he believes that he and his colleagues have earned a seat at the table by making the company successful and “extremely rich.”

“I’m part of this organization, and what I do and don’t do matters,” he said.

As the walls between people’s personal lives and work lives break down, employees expect to debate political issues at work, which can create dilemmas for corporations, said Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer at consulting firm

Accenture

PLC.

“It’s admirable to be responsive to employees,” he said. “It’s also the case that employees are then setting the direction of the company.”

Google has espoused transparency and dialogue, a company spokeswoman said, and has been fielding worker criticism and petitions for years, though employees have been bringing more activist approaches to the workplace recently.

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at rachel.feintzeig@wsj.com and Kelsey Gee at kelsey.gee@wsj.com