As votes were being counted in Alabama to determine whether Amazon workers in the state will be allowed to form a union, the bots were out in full swing.
If you weren't aware, Twitter is currently in a battle with pro-Amazon, anti-union bots. (Because of course it is).
Amazon's workplace ethics have been under fire for quite a while now. Reports of surveillance, hazardous conditions, long periods of extreme productivity spurred on by threats of job loss, and many other dangers have long hauled Amazon warehouses across the world. For over a decade, Amazon workers have been fighting against "sweatshop" conditions. Their workers face extremely high levels of injury, death, mental health issues, and suicide.
The fight has not been easy. To make matters worse, Amazon has consistently been accused of taking measures to discourage and destroy potential unions among its workers, measures that include heavily surveilling unions, pasting anti-union sentiments around its warehouses, and even, apparently, making legions of anti-union, pro-Amazon Twitter accounts.
Fake anti-union, pro-Amazon accounts have been popping up on Twitter since as early as 2019. They are fairly easy to recognize thanks to their eerie-looking avatars, their peppy, pro-Amazon posts, and their usernames, which tend to begin with the phrase "AmazonFC," capitalization intact and all.
Just last week a fake account that went under the name of "AmazonFCDarla" popped up and started posting Tweets about how much she loved Amazon. She also complained about how unions were trying to take "a piece of my salary" and described the extremely anti-union CEO of Amazon, Dave Clark, as someone who cares "deeply about workers' rights." Twitter deleted her accounts on Tuesday after Amazon admitted she was not an "official ambassador."
A short thread about Darla, who really really loves working for Amazon! Her account was created on Mar 26--curiousl… https://t.co/L3rblCk5eN— Ariel Bogle (@Ariel Bogle)1617055001.0
Amazon just told me that the Darla account in particular is fake and they have reported it to Twitter. FWIW, "her… https://t.co/R3miFtNuC1— Karen Weise (@Karen Weise)1617060580.0
Amazon creating bots to oppose unionization. Jfc 🤦🏻♂️ https://t.co/MClxNmkLvw— Josh 🏴🚩 (@Josh 🏴🚩)1617052238.0
As with all things on the Internet, things are not as they seem. Though some bots seem to have legitimately been created by Amazon, a chorus of satirists and trolls have joined the mix — some trying to highlight the absurdity of anti-union sentiments, some seeking to make fun of Amazon and its bots, and some looking to provoke the outrage of everyday Twitter users daft enough to be fooled into outrage.
lol amazon didn't even try with this fake ass bot account 😂 https://t.co/vDrxYE7ECd— Rajat Suresh (@Rajat Suresh)1617054227.0
I would not be surprised if the whole amazon bot thing is a psyop because there's no way a company can be this blat… https://t.co/PYCJPYQ68V— Jai (@Jai)1617118443.0
Many, if not most, of the faces of these bots do not belong to real people, as revealed when they're cross-checked against thispersondoesnotexist.com, a site that identifies digitally created avatars. It feels oddly appropriate that Amazon workers are being represented online not only by nonexistent people, but specifically by digitally engineered robots. After all, Amazon has a tendency to treat its employees like subhuman machines, capable of spitting out endless work.
"They are treating us like robots rather than humans," said Linda Burns, 51, a strong supporter of the Birmingham union, who left Amazon after developing tendonitis on the job.
Famously, Amazon workers often do not have time to even go to the bathroom during their breaks, and some are even forced to pee in bottles because of this. The corporation even used Twitter to clap back, writing, "You really don't believe in the peeing in bottles thing, do you?"
@repmarkpocan 1/2 You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would wor… https://t.co/gDke8HPsPI— Amazon News (@Amazon News)1616639354.0
As Emanuel Maiberg writes in Vice, all of these chaotic Twitter wars and bots may really be detracting from the issue at hand, which is that Amazon is mistreating its employees while siphoning massive amounts of wealth into the hands of a few of its top executives. On Twitter, it's impossible to tell what's real and what's fake, which story is manufactured, and which is just a corporation's effort to preserve its dehumanizing tactics.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that some real Amazon executives have been tweeting in defense of their company, while the Amazon Twitter account itself has clapped back at everyone from the editors of the Washington Post, a company owned by none other than Jeff Bezos, to Elizabeth Warren.
When Warren tweeted, "Giant corporations like Amazon report huge profits to their shareholders – but they exploit loopholes and tax havens to pay close to nothing in taxes. That's just not right – and it's why I'll be introducing a bill to make the most profitable companies pay a fair share," Amazon had a reply ready to go.
"You make the tax laws @SenWarren; we just follow them," Amazon's account replied. "If you don't like the laws you've created, by all means, change them. Here are the facts: Amazon has paid billions of dollars in corporate taxes over the past few years alone."
Warren replied, "I didn't write the loopholes you exploit, @amazon – your armies of lawyers and lobbyists did. But you bet I'll fight to make you pay your fair share. And fight your union-busting. And fight to break up Big Tech so you're not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets."
Intriguingly, shortly after this debate occurred, Joe Biden singled out Amazon as a company that has failed to pay its federal taxes. According to Reuters, on the same day he unveiled his massive plan to revitalize American infrastructure, Biden said Amazon [uses] various loopholes where they pay not a single solitary penny in federal income tax."
In response, Amazon's public policy spokesperson Jay Carney tweeted, "If the R&D Tax Credit is a 'loophole,' it's certainly one Congress strongly intended. The R&D Tax credit has existed since 1981, was extended 15 times with bi-partisan support and was made permanent in 2015 in a law signed by President Obama."
Biden's infrastructure plan looks to address some of these disparities (which are, unfortunately, sanctioned by Congress) by raising corporate tax rates and closing loopholes that allow companies to move their profits overseas.
Still, these efforts will not directly address the issue of Amazon workers' rights violations. Addressing these issues will almost certainly require unions.
Support for and membership in unions has declined in America over the past 50 years, while income inequality has skyrocketed. "The massive increase in wealth and income inequality can be directly linked to the decline in union membership in America," wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders in a recent op-ed for The Guardian.
Sanders, along with a cohort of other progressive electeds, visited Birmingham to show their support for the Alabama union last Friday. As more and more Amazon workers speak up about the reality of their experiences working for the richest man in the world, hopefully it will become harder for Amazon to use bots and robotic regurgitations of statements about purity when they continue to treat their workers like automatons.
@JayCarney @BernieSanders Amazon love to say that their workplaces are “safe and inclusive.” The workers told me wh… https://t.co/amlKYyAoRm— Kim Kelly (@Kim Kelly)1617131898.0