Amazon has killed a program under which it paid warehouse employees to say nice things about the company on social media. “Amazon quietly shut down and removed all traces of the influence campaign at the end of last year, people with direct knowledge of the decision told the Financial Times,” FT reported today. FT noted that the social media program suffered from “poor reach and embarrassing backfires.”
Amazon began paying workers to tweet in 2018 in a widely mocked effort to counter negative perceptions about the company. As Business Insider reported in August 2018, “The company now has a small army of ‘FC Ambassadors’ saying nice things about the company online and engaging in dialogue with average Twitter users. The ambassadors are full-time employees, according to an Amazon spokesperson, and it is their job to share their experiences working at a fulfillment center.”
“FC” stands for fulfillment centers, and the “ambassadors” worked in the Amazon warehouses before being paid to tweet, and in at least some cases, they split duties between the warehouse and Twitter. “I get paid $15/hr whether I am answering tweets or out on the floor stowing. I do this 2 days a week and 2 days a week I stow,” one Amazon employee explained in 2019, as seen in a Bellingcat report that found 53 Amazon FC Ambassador accounts on Twitter.
“The ‘ambassador’ program was always a laughable attempt to minimize the abuses unfolding inside Amazon warehouses,” Warehouse Worker Resource Center Executive Director Sheheryar Kaoosji told the Financial Times.
“I never saw anyone urinate in a bottle”
Amazon’s paid tweeters were instructed on how to deny negative statements about the company’s warehouses, an internal Amazon document published by The Intercept in March 2021 showed. With stories about Amazon employees needing to urinate in bottles circulating, the document said that ambassadors should respond, “No, that’s not right. I worked in an Amazon FC for over four years and never saw anyone urinate in a bottle. There are easily accessible bathrooms in every one of our buildings I’ve ever been in.” That was included in a section titled “Draft examples to use in training.”
Employees posted many tweets praising the experience of working in Amazon warehouses, with text saying, “Did you know that Amazon pays warehouse workers 30% more than other retailers? I feel proud to work for Amazon—they’ve taken good care of me. Much better than some of my previous employers.”
As for why Amazon killed the ambassador program, today’s FT report said that some senior Amazon executives “were unhappy with the scheme’s poor reach. The campaign also backfired when a number of spoof accounts gave the false impression some Amazon workers had gone rogue. Amazon declined to comment on the program’s closure.”
We contacted Amazon today and will update this article if we get a response.
Parody accounts vs. the real thing
Amid an Amazon workers’ effort to unionize in Alabama, comedian Robby Appleton created a parody Twitter account that mimicked the ambassadors. “It was so bizarre to me that Amazon was making their employees sit on the clock and be sycophants for the people hiring them,” Appleton told The Verge last year. “Also, their strategy was so chaotic that this wasn’t even effective. And I thought, because it was so chaotic, I might be able to make an account and maybe fool a dozen people into thinking it was real and have a little fun with that.”
The parody account and others like it were suspended by Twitter. Telling the satires from the real thing wasn’t always easy, as accounts belonging to real Amazon employees were “posting only slightly less deranged content about how much they love working at Amazon,” Vice noted in an article about the parody account suspensions.
Amazon’s tactics weren’t too different on its official @amazonnews Twitter account. The account denied that workers urinate in bottles in March 2021, writing in a reply to US Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), “If that were true, nobody would work for us.” Amazon later admitted that the “tweet was incorrect.”
Tweets like that one caused concern inside Amazon about the account potentially having been hacked, with one of the company’s security engineers filing a support ticket about “suspicious activity” on the official company account. “These tweets are unnecessarily antagonistic (risking Amazon’s brand), and may be a result of unauthorized access by someone with access to the account’s credentials,” the ticket said.