After Amazon’s public relations account sent a number of tweets taunting public officials, staffers were so concerned about the “unnecessarily antagonistic” tone that a security engineer filed a suspicious activity report, believing that the company’s social media account had been hacked, according to internal company documents obtained by The Intercept. One tweet, responding to Rep. Mark Pocan’s criticism of Amazon labor practices, said, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?”
“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 report states. “The tweets in question do not match the usual content posted by this account, and doesn’t seem to match the quality careful wording, and doesn’t report the same source-label (the offending tweets all report ‘Twitter Web App’ instead of ‘Sprinklr’).”
The report, which was first mentioned by Recode, was filed on Friday, according to two Amazon employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal, but was promptly closed out. An internal Amazon correspondence log provided to The Intercept said the tweets were “not a technical issue”: “I got details from [redacted] that this is [an] ongoing PR issue and does not require any technical support. PR leadership are aware of it.”
“It basically got sent into a black hole,” the employee who provided the log said. “Just resolved as no issue.” Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Recode, the suspicious tweets in fact came at the behest of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who had recently conveyed disappointment to Amazon officials that the company was not pushing back against criticisms that he considered misleading.
But company personnel think Amazon’s aggressive actions on Twitter are “embarrassing.” “A lot of folks thought the account was compromised due to those rants,” one Amazon employee told The Intercept. The provocative tweets enumerated by the report — perhaps best described as “snotty” by Sen. Elizabeth Warren — include the reply to Pocan, insisting that no one would work for Amazon if drivers had to use urine bottles; the reply to Warren, telling her, “You make the tax laws … we just follow them”; and several replies to a critical news article in The Guardian, which it brusquely called “fiction.”
1/2 You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one.— Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021
2/3 In 2020, we had another $1.7B in federal tax expense and that’s on top of the $18 billion we generated in sales taxes for states and localities in the U.S. Congress designed tax laws to encourage investment in the economy.— Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 26, 2021
The report also mentions several news articles based on the Twitter exchanges. On Thursday, The Intercept published internal Amazon documents contradicting Amazon’s response to Pocan by showing that not only was management well aware that its employees were urinating in bottles, but that they were also defecating in bags. Current and former Amazon employees told The Intercept that this practice reflected the grueling working conditions, particularly delivery quotas.
“Finding out that the tweets are real is embarrassing and contradicts Amazon’s leadership principles they pride themselves on,” an Amazon employee told me. The company’s internal “PR Social Tenets” include: “No self inflicted wounds: we assess every communication thoroughly and have systems in place to ensure that we will not cause damage to Amazon’s reputation,” according to a copy of the document obtained by The Intercept.
Internal dissent at Amazon has been amplified by a union vote among workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, this month. Amazon employees expressed outrage at the company’s unannounced decision earlier this month, first reported by Recode, to shut down its employee directory, believing it to be an attempt at union busting by preventing workers from finding each other’s contact information in the run-up to the widely anticipated vote, which ends today. Amazon has denied that this was related to the union vote. None of Amazon’s 800,000 U.S. employees are unionized, so the vote is seen as something of a bellwether for union efforts in the trillion-dollar company.
Employee help tickets filed in response to the directory shutdown not only failed to be resolved, but they were also promptly locked so that other personnel couldn’t see them, one employee told me.
Another Amazon employee said that the company had increased its attempts to tamp down dissent. Earlier this month, The Intercept reported that the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon retaliated against employees in Chicago for striking last year. According to the NLRB, last April, workers took part in strikes demanding safer working conditions in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; after the strikes, these employees reported disciplinary write-ups and other intimidation. That same month, Amazon’s corporate employees organized an event to discuss how to push for safer working conditions. But they soon found that the event had been deleted from their work calendars and inboxes.
“It seems like they’re quicker to shut stuff like this down after actions by other employee groups in the past few years,” the employee said.