Amazon has shuttered a controversial influence campaign in which it paid workers to tweet about how much they love working at Amazon, reports The Financial Times. Employees at the retailer’s warehouses (which it calls fulfillment centers) were paid to share positive impressions about the company and to deny widely-reported workplace failings — like employees being forced to urinate in bottles in order to meet performance targets.
According to internal documents shared by The Intercept in 2021, the scheme launched in 2018 in response to waves of criticism of Amazon’s safety standards and working conditions. Workers were selected for their “great sense of humor” and told to respond “in a polite — but blunt — way” to the company’s critics, including policymakers and politicians.
In one typical tweet, an employee responds to a critic by saying: “I’ve worked at Amazon filling orders for 2 years now. Do you think if I wasn’t being paid enough that I’d still be here? Full (and generous) benefits package. OH! AND I like the people I work with! Yeah – I’m doing just fine partner! [cowboy emoji]”
The employees were recognizable on Twitter thanks to the “Amazon FC Ambassador” moniker appended to the end of their names. But the exact identity or number of “ambassadors” was never clear. A Bellingcat investigation found at least 53 accounts active on Twitter, but noted that users tended to deploy similar language, tweet the same pictures, and even swap ownership of accounts, created a blur of overlapping identities.
what i love about those Amazon FC Ambassador accounts is how some exec at Amazon thought forcing their employees to tweet about how much they love serving their corporate masters would make Amazon look normal and good, and not at all like an evil corporation in a dystopian novel
— Existential Comics (@existentialcoms) August 16, 2019
To many, this set-up looked too artificial to be taken seriously, and the accounts quickly became a target of criticism and mockery. This wasn’t helped by the fact that anyone could call themselves an “Amazon FC Ambassador” on Twitter, and a number of parodies soon appeared. As the operator of one popular parody account told The Verge: “It was so bizarre to me that Amazon was making their employees sit on the clock and be sycophants for the people hiring them. Also, their strategy was so chaotic that this wasn’t even effective.”
This reaction seems to have got through to Amazon’s top brass. As per the FT’s report, “senior Amazon executives […] were unhappy with the scheme’s poor reach,” and as a result the company “shut down and removed all traces of the influence campaign at the end of last year.”