all opinions shared are my own and do not represent Google
I’ll begin by saying that this has been an exhausting emotional roller-coaster since the beginning of my 2L year. For the quick tl;dr: I am officially a full-time Policy Specialist and Product Lead for Google Trust and Safety.
This is part one of a series of posts I’m going to share about Trust & Safety and my Google journey. I’ll try to share some guidance and tips throughout for those that might be interested in working for Google too. In this first part, I discuss the reasons why I’ve been hesitant to talk publicly about my role. I hope to highlight some of the concerns many folks that work for “big tech,” especially in Trust and Safety, might be feeling too.
I’ve actually known about this role since late April. I signed the offer in early May and I’ve been working for Google since June. The decision to announce my transition to Google admittedly comes with a lot of stress and anxiety. If you know me, that might seem weird. I’m usually the type to update the Internet on literally everything including what I had for breakfast. But this was a bit different for many reasons:
I already got burned once by COVID-19 and I was expecting to get burned again. As some of you may remember, I announced early April that I would be working for YouTube Policy. Since January, I had been in discussions with my recruiter about that role.
I was excited about the role. But to be honest, I knew that the job wasn’t exactly the best fit. It was more content moderation than it was policy. But I viewed it as getting my foot in the door. It’s easier to pivot once you’re actually at the company.
I made it through four rounds of interviews, the hiring committee, and the meetings with my hiring manager. I was approved for the role in March and told that I would be receiving an offer in early April.
I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from law school (and from my advisor who seems to be right about everything all the time). If I can offer some solid advice: learn from my mistake and never announce a new job until you’ve signed the offer. Instead of receiving an offer, I received a phone call from my recruiter telling me that the role was canceled due to the COVID-19 hiring freeze. Cue the awkward and depressing “just kidding” social media update…
Long story short (and I’ll get into this more in the next part of this series), I was offered a different, more suitable, role with Google’s Trust and Safety team as a policy specialist and product lead. This was a role that I’ve been chasing since the beginning of my 2L year. This was also the role I was going to pivot to once I got to YouTube. This, for many reasons, is why I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason.
Because I already had interviews and a candidate profile leftover from the YouTube position, I didn’t have to do much to secure this new role with Google. Things moved fast from the time my recruiter called me in April to when I signed the offer in May. That entire time, I kept everything between my family and my advisor. I couldn’t help but worry that somehow, COVID-19 was going to ruin this opportunity again…and I was not in the mood to make another awkward social media update.
Physical Safety Concerns
Another reason for the delay has to do with a lot of anxieties about my own personal safety. To put it bluntly, Trump’s tweet about the Twitter employee in charge of Twitter’s Site Integrity really screwed me up. After Trump was fact-checked for spreading misinformation about mail-in ballots, he took it out on one Twitter employee, calling them out by name, and creating what I imagine became a security nightmare for that individual.
I worked at Twitter last summer as a legal intern. I can say from experience that the Trust and Safety decisions are the result of a collective effort involving many people and many moving parts. As Twitter’s global lead for legal, policy, and Trust and Safety put it here, “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions.”
The President’s reaction was disgraceful. It’s something that I can’t help but constantly think about now. In 280 characters or less, the President of the United States put an individual’s entire life at risk. All because of a single fact-check.
What this means now is that stepping into any Trust and Safety role at any major Internet company brings with it even more than the usual risk. Though Trust and Safety is made up of a huge team of people, you now run the risk of being singled out as the ultimate decision-maker. With how upset people have become with the Internet, and “big tech,” that reality is terrifying – especially when your own President is willing to out you to his crazy fan-base.
With that, a major reason why I haven’t spoken up since April is because I’m worried about my own personal safety. I’ve always lived a very public life when it comes to the Internet. Recent events have caused me to rethink the way I treat my own online identity moving forward.
Bad Press, Bad Timing
Shortly after an NBC article incorrectly accused Google of demonetizing conservative outlets like The Federalist, a hit piece targeting “big tech influencers” dropped. I, along with many others in the tech policy community, was “exposed” for being paid by Google to advocate for Section 230. At the time, I was working for TechFreedom; a D.C. based technology policy think-tank. I’m also incredibly vocal on social media about my advocacy for Section 230, so this was sort of inevitable.
To be honest, the piece wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t really go viral and I didn’t receive too much backlash for it (aside from a few nasty DM’s and Tweets). But it was also the first time something like this had happened to me and it shook me up. The timing was awful too. This was a week before my start date with Google. I was worried that if the piece did gain traction, it would look even worse when I announced that now I actually am being paid by Google.
Between the hit piece and the already overwhelming concerns about my physical safety, I was even more discouraged to say anything about this new role. Which, thinking about it now, is really sad because this was something I had been working towards since before law school…and something I am incredibly proud of.
I did great work at TechFreedom but occasionally I would get in trouble for some of my more…aggressive…Section 230 takes, especially if politics were involved. Luckily, I had amazing mentors that knew when to reel me in.
Again, if you know me, you know I get heated about the Internet and Section 230. I get especially heated when terrible, do-nothing, Trump enabling, politicians like he-who-shall-not-be-named, peddle bullshit about a law they don’t understand in an attempt to burn down the Internet. …At times, I can be especially outspoken and sometimes I say things that might just push the envelope a little too far.
Lately, it seems like I’ve been getting backlash for even my regular “hot” Section 230 takes. The more followers I’ve amassed over time and the bigger my tech policy network grows, the more I’ve realized how much I have to curtail my speech to keep myself out of trouble. For someone like me, that sucks. Part of me can’t help but think this has a lot to do with being a woman (sorry to play that card). I notice a lot of outspoken men in this field that will make a lot bolder and more aggressive remarks than I’ve ever made and get away with it with no problem. But when I do it, all of a sudden I find out folks are “questioning your judgment.” But that’s a rant for another time.
The point is, I can put in my social media bios that my views are not representative of my company, but at the end of the day, whatever I say can still get thrown back at me, and now Google. Labeling myself as a Googler, publicly, means having to be even more careful about the way I frame my views and takes on Internet policy. Otherwise, the reality might mean waking up to a very unfavorable New York Times headline.
On the one hand, working for Google means having to water down my fiery online persona. But on the other, it also means that I’ve been given the opportunity to grow as a professional. The more expertise I build in this field and on the subject areas I’m passionate about, the more closely people will listen.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that reality quite yet.
This might seem like a silly concern. If anything, working for Google should be a major resume boost. Unfortunately though, working for big tech means being automatically labeled as a “shill” every time you advocate for what you believe in.
I’m what people might call a “Section 230 absolutist.” As an absolutist, I believe that Section 230 is perfect the way it is and that there exists no reform to 230 that would improve the Internet ecosystem. Section 230 works just as well now as it did in 1996 and should be left alone.
Unfortunately, that viewpoint invites a lot of hate. Section 230 opponents usually just write me off as a “shill for big tech” and the conversation ends there. That’s because most opponents fail to realize that Section 230 is as much (if not more) of an immunity for small, market entrants, as it is for the larger Internet players.
The nice part about being a law student and not working for big tech quite yet was having sort of a built-in shield against these attacks. For starters, attacks against students in general are usually not well received by the academic community. (S/O to the scholars and experts that often came to my defense online and offline). So students are usually “off-limits;” a protection I somewhat enjoyed.
Being a student and a research assistant, I could also get away with the notion that my passionate advocacy for Section 230 derives primarily from academia; not a paycheck. Plus, I could always hide behind my advisor if shit really hit the fan.
Though I’m still technically a law student, I realize the inevitable perception shift that comes with announcing my current role. As my advisor put it, I’m no longer just Jess the law student. Rather, I’m Jess the Googler.
As a full-time employee, I can’t even use the Baby Yoda intern excuse anymore.
Hence, I’ve been worried that the minute I publicly label myself as a Googler, my credibility will diminish significantly, collapsing into the overused allegations that my advocacy has been bought or that I “sold out.” Never mind the massive amount of time and energy I’ve devoted to learning as much as possible about the law I’ve chosen to permanently ink to my body…no, I’m just a shill for big tech.
Trust me, I know that fear is irrational. Trolls are going to troll regardless. Instead, I try to view this transition as an opportunity to get some real, tangible hands-on experience that will nicely complement my academic edge.
One of the last late nights of my TechFreedom internship, my boss left me with some valuable insight:
There’s being knowledgeable about the law, but a real expert can translate the law into useful, realistic, and concrete hypotheticals that illustrate the law’s implications. The latter will only come from experience.
Where better to get that experience than from the Internet giants that regularly shape Internet law and policy every single day?
If working for big tech makes me a shill, so be it. But for now, I’m content knowing that I’m in a role where I can make some serious impact in ways that will only make the Internet better for all of us. I’m in a position where I get take everything I’ve learned these past three years about law & policy, Section 230, and content moderation, and essentially, write the next iteration of rules for the Internet.
That’s why I’m excited to finally be a Googler.