Internal Amazon documents show that the company’s widely-derided Twitter “ambassadors” program was intended to be a different sort of laugh riot, according to the Intercept.
Multiple Amazon executives on Twitter, as well as the company’s @AmazonNews, went weirdly aggro on the site last week ahead of a union vote at a company warehouse in Alabama. Amazon-affiliated accounts sent out tweets mocking Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while @AmazonNews tweeted to Rep. Mark Pocan with the question, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” (Beyond numerous media accounts, confidential Amazon documents show the company is well aware some employees feel pressured into peeing or even pooping outside a bathroom.)
The aggressive tone was reportedly at the urging of CEO and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, whose strategy of shit-talking legislators proved perhaps not as relatable to the common man as he might have believed. It wasn’t even relatable to Amazon’s own corporate security chuds, who thought the tweets were so weird they sent memos warning they thought @AmazonNews might have been hacked.
Meanwhile, another part of Amazon’s PR strategy—deploying an army of funny Amazon fulfillment center employees on Twitter to explain why they love working for the company so much—went just as poorly. First created in 2019 but apparently reactivated ahead of the union vote, Amazon’s drone swarm has always come off as disingenuous capitalist doubletalk from obvious plants. As Motherboard reported, the “FC ambassador” cadre appears to have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by far larger numbers of parody accounts. This made it nearly impossible for Twitter and the general public to distinguish who really worked for Amazon and who didn’t, and it’s banned waves of accounts claiming to be warehouse employees in recent weeks.
Amazon obviously intended this to go differently. A 10-page document obtained by the Intercept on the FC ambassador program, dated 2018, sheds details on the genesis of this fumbling effort at a psyop. The program summary included in the document explains that it would take the form of a coordinated effort to have “empowered” Amazon warehouse workers with tenure “speak in the first person about their own experiences working in Amazon FCs and set the record straight—leaving no lie unchallenged”:
To address speculation and false assertions in social media and online forums about the quality of the FC associate experience, we are creating a new social team staffed with active, tenured FC employees, who will be empowered to respond in polite—but blunt—way to every untruth. FC Ambassadors(“FCAs”) will respond to all posts and comments from customers, influencers(including policymakers), and media questioning the FC associate experience. These associates will speak in the first person about their own experiences working in Amazon FCs and set the record straight—leaving no lie unchallenged and showing that people who actually know what it’s like to work in our FCs love their jobs.
To sell these totally real and honest anecdotes from empowered Amazon ambassadors, the document states, it would be great if they can also do it while being hilarious and relatable. (They nailed at least one of those things, albeit not intentionally.) Ideal candidates for the program would have a “strong performance background and clean HR record, be authentic, have a great sense of humor, and be excited about speaking their mind and rebutting our critics in a polite, blunt way,” according to the document.
While other parts of the document stress the importance of honesty—a section is titled “Tell Your Truth”—as the Intercept noted, there are at least three prohibited topics of conversation. Those include requests for comment from media, “compound issues where PR approval is not received” such as the company’s ads on right-wing site Breitbart, and “contacts about the right to unionize.”
It’s impossible to take the document’s exhortations for Amazon ambassadors to be completely honest when it also contains examples of coached talking points they can deploy when counter-attacking critics. Sample training materials suggest ambassadors say that anyone who hates their job can just quit (problem solved!) or that Bezos has as much right to his billions in wealth as poor people do their scraps. Per the Intercept:
In one instance, the document refers to a video interview Sanders tweeted: “Bernie Sanders interviewing Seth King on Prime Day. Seth describes feeling so depressed working at Amazon to take his own life.”
An ambassador, role-playing, then responds: “@SenSanders This job has never made me feel bad personally. If you have a job that makes you feel bad, you could leave.”
At another point, Sanders is described as having “tweeted about Jeff Bezos’ wealth.” The ambassador then replies: “Everyone should be able to enjoy the money they’ve earned/saved. It’s theirs. They should be able to do with it as they please. That includes Jeff Bezos.”
Other gems include how to address accounts of Amazon workers feeling compelled to pee in bottles, with a sample response from training exercises reading, “I work for Amazon and not sure about other facilities but I’ve never felt pressured to pee in a trash can [...] As for the smell, Amazon does sell deer urine that hunters use :-)”. Another, on the topic of whether Bezos’s workers are “suffering,” reads like something someone with a gun to their head would say: “While I would like raise a (who wouldn’t:-) I can assure you, in my personal experience, that I am not suffering. Sure, it’s hard work but that’s the life of working in a warehouse :-)”.
As for whether the ambassador accounts are freely offered or the result of some kind of incentive by Amazon, the document offers yet more reasons to be skeptical. It outlines a plan to staff the program by allowing fulfillment center employees to work full-time social media shifts out of “conference rooms or spare offices” for six to 12 months, which is undoubtedly preferable to physically taxing and potentially dangerous warehouse work.
A Plan B discussed in the document would be transferring the ambassadors to an “elevated title” on the white-collar customer service team, which would require disclosing they no longer work in a warehouse, but does have the added bonus of ensuring their new role is reliant upon saying only nice things about their experience in one.
“People are really gullible, but it’s also Amazon’s fault with having these bizarre uncanny valley accounts in the first place, plus their whole pee bottle saga,” Bellingcat researcher Aric Toler told Motherboard of the swarm of fake FC ambassador accounts. “After the initial reports of Amazon FC accounts there were endless bad/obvious parody accounts that popped up. It’s happening again now with the labor push and the bad Amazon News tweets.”
The union vote at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, has been completed, but the counting process and any possible appeals to the National Labor Relations Board on the way the vote was conducted are expected to take days to weeks to resolve.