Amazon will block and flag employee posts on a planned internal messaging app that contain keywords, according to leaked internal company documents reviewed by The Intercept.
These keywords could represent criticisms of Amazon’s working conditions like “slave labour,” “prison,” “plantation,” and “restrooms” – presumably related to reports of Amazon employees relieving themselves in bottles to meet punishing quotas.
An automatic word monitor used by the Amazon worker chat app would also block terms pertaining to labour unions such as “union,” “pay raise,” “grievance,” and “living wage.” Other banned terms include “this is dumb,” “diversity,” and “vaccine.”
“Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,” said Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait. “This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all.”
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In November 2021, Amazon convened a high-level meeting in which top executives discussed plans to create an internal social media program that would let employees recognise co-workers’ performance with posts called “Shout-Outs.”
Shout-Outs would be part of a game-like rewards system in which employees are awarded virtual stars and badges for activities that “add direct business value.”
The major goal of the program, Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, said, was to reduce employee attrition by fostering happiness among workers – and also productivity.
But company officials also warned of what they called “the dark side of social media” and decided to actively monitor posts in order to ensure a “positive community.” At the meeting, Clark suggested that the program should resemble an online dating app like Bumble, which allows individuals to engage one on one, rather than a more forum-like platform like Facebook.
Following the meeting, an “auto bad word monitor” was devised. In addition to profanities, the banned terms include many relevant to organised labour, including “union,” “grievance,” “pay raise,” and “compensation.” Other banned keywords include terms like “ethics,” “unfair,” “slave,” “master,” “freedom,” “diversity,” “injustice,” and “fairness.” Even some phrases like “this is concerning” will be banned.
In addition to the automated system, managers will have the authority to flag or suppress any Shout-Outs that they find inappropriate.
A document summarising the program states: “We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.”
A pilot program is slated to launch later this month. In addition to slurs and swear words, the planned list includes the following words:
Subsequent to The Intercept first publishing its article, an Amazon spokesperson has claimed that “there are no plans for many of the words [The Intercept is] calling out to be screened. The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team.”
Read the full article: Leaked: New Amazon Worker Chat App Would Ban Words Like “Union,” “Restrooms,” “Pay Raise,” And “Plantation”, The Intercept, 4 April 2022
“Offensive” or “harassing” to whom? Amazon top executives?
A search on the internet brings up numerous reports of Amazon’s poor working conditions. We have listed a sample under “read more.” It does not require a great leap of the imagination to suspect Amazon will find the terms “slave labour,” “prison,” “plantation,” and “restrooms” offensive and they will remain on the banned list. Restricting freedom of expression and freedom of speech, in other words, censorship is never benign.
Add to the censorship the Shout-Outs – which sound uncomfortably like a corporate social credit system with employees policing each other – it is unlikely Amazon’s chat app program is intended for “employees to engage with each other” or to “foster happiness.” It will do quite the opposite.
- Amazon accused of ‘intolerable conditions’ at Scottish warehouse, The Guardian, 12 December 2016
- Amazon workers working 55-hour weeks and so exhausted by targets they ‘fall asleep standing up’, The Independent, 27 November 2017
- ‘I’m not a robot’: Amazon workers condemn unsafe, grueling conditions at warehouse, The Guardian, 5 February 2020
- UK must compel Amazon to improve worker conditions, say unions, The Guardian, 12 October 2020
- 14-hour days and no bathroom breaks: Amazon’s overworked delivery drivers, The Guardian, 11 March 2021
- Amazon’s chronic woes with workers’ mental health, ruthless work conditions deepen after another employee suicide, Meaww, 11 March 2021
- A Closer Look at Amazon: Are Unethical Working Conditions on the Rise? The GeoPolitics, 14 April 2021
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