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Amazon had a weird week on Twitter. But the union vote is the big news.

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Votes are being counted in Bessemer, Alabama, this week from Amazon warehouse workers considering whether to unionize. Amazon has fought tooth and nail against the union effort, and also against members of Congress. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren criticized its treatment of employees, and Amazon’s official Twitter account went on the attack. So did some Twitter users claiming they were very happy Amazon employees, and not all of them were real.

I dig into this in “Quality Assurance,” the segment where I take a deeper look at a big tech story. I spoke with Jason Del Rey, who covers Amazon for Recode. He said this union vote is big, no matter the outcome. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Jason Del Rey: I also think if it’s a close loss, that also would be seen as a positive sign just because Amazon has never had a union in the U.S. Even in that case, we’d see other efforts, at least inside of Amazon facilities in the country. You know, get a couple thousand people or more than 1,000 people voting to unionize at one facility, I mean, [I] think that says something, especially with all the pressure that management has put on these workers over the last few weeks.

Molly Wood: Well, and then, of course, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were criticizing Amazon on Twitter for how it treats its employees. And we saw Amazon take what seems to be a pretty new tack on social media, [and] hit back pretty aggressively.

Del Rey: So what we saw was executives from Dave Clark, who’s the CEO of the worldwide consumer business at Amazon, to the corporate Amazon accounts written by [public relations] people, being both snarky [and] what I think many people would say would be an inappropriate tone. I reported that that directive to get more aggressive came directly from Jeff Bezos. After my story kind of exploded, you see executives this week, such as Jay Carney, he’s been on Twitter the last two days responding to both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And each tweet started with some version of “With great respect” or “With all due respect.” I kind of laughed when I saw that because it’s such a departure from what we saw just a week ago.

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Wood: I mean, it’s one thing to say, “Be more aggressive.” Do you think it’s a case of potentially employees taking that idea way too literally, or then finding themselves surprised at how poorly it seemed to go over?

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Del Rey: I’ve had several former executives reach out to me pointing to specific tweets — there was a group of tweets that were aggressive or snarky — and I’ve had some who’ve reached out to me, who sort of know how Jeff Bezos writes, who said to me like, “That one or that one sure sounds and looks a lot like something Jeff would say himself.” And so I don’t know the exact answer, [but] my best guess is that some of these were actually from Jeff himself. And I think they just did not go over necessarily how everyone thought they might. I think there were high-up people in that company who were not in agreement on this tack, so perhaps when you saw the reaction, that was enough convincing to reverse the stance on the tone they should be taking.

Wood: So you have these aggressive tweets from official accounts. And then you also have these personal accounts on Twitter, claiming to be Amazon employees who are really happy with the work environment, some of which are clearly bots. Like, are any real?

Del Rey: Amazon started a program a few years ago, where they essentially gave some warehouse workers who had positive experiences the ability to tweet during their work shift and respond to critics and tell them about their experience. This seems like an extension of that, or some part of that. I think some of these are absolutely real people. There’s been at least one instance of an account that popped up this week that Amazon said was not real. Who’s behind it, and whether the aim was to embarrass Amazon, still sort of seems up in the air. I think this initiative, even going back a few years, kind of speaks to a certain level of desperation at the leadership level of Amazon that’s like, “We believe we really are a good employer. Like, what else can we do to change the narrative?”

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Wood: I mean, what’s interesting is that Amazon has always had a really good reputation. Does this more aggressive posture on Twitter suggest that they’re actually a little worried about that?

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Del Rey: I think absolutely. I think for years, they’ve tracked very closely, internally, customer brand reputation. And so whether part of this is them actually seeing data that shows it’s having an impact, or them just knowing the reality that could be awaiting them, I think that for sure is a concern here. It’s hard, though, when you look at the sales numbers of this company — record profits — to really see that consumer pushback manifests itself in any meaningful way. And I don’t know that it’s sort of a fair expectation of people just trying to, like, get the best deal they can, to be the ones to sort of take the stand, if it’s true that Amazon’s labor conditions need to be drastically improved. If it’s true that, on the business reputation side, that Amazon violates antitrust law in any of their practices. So I think Amazon is concerned about consumers 100%. I think consumers are not going to be the ones that sort of take the big stand when what they’re giving up is good prices and convenience.

Wood: I mean, you look at the sales numbers, and you look at how consumers feel about Amazon, and you think maybe the better strategy here would just be to keep quietly kicking butt and stay off Twitter.

Del Rey: Well, and for a long, long time, that was the strategy. I mean, for a long time, all the press was really positive. And then, when it became bigger and bigger, and there was more scrutiny, the most common response I got the first couple years I covered this company was either “No comment” or no response to stories that did not shine a positive light on the company. But under Jay Carney’s leadership since he joined the company around five years ago, you’ve seen moments like this surface. Nothing as in your face as this instance on Twitter, but you’ve seen certain comments given to media outlets in response to a story that are just like, “Did a spokesperson for the most powerful company in the world really just say that to The Wall Street Journal?” So we’ve seen parts of this, and it’s not always clear how much of it is Jeff Bezos versus Jay Carney or another spokesperson who’s been there 20 years — a guy named Drew Herdener — but there has been a change in the last couple years.

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Although the facility is big, there are numerous bathrooms to use. My building has 12. Each bathroom can have 3-6🚽 Thats plenty. Plus with 20-30 mn breaks that’s more than enough time,

— Yola at OAK4 📦 (@AmazonFCYola) March 28, 2021

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

Here’s a little more reading on the actual union vote and how it’s working. Assume that for the participants it will carry roughly as much stress as the presidential election. Workers have expressed fears that if the union succeeds, Amazon might straight up shut down the warehouse, although it’s committed a lot of money to it. And if it does care about reputation, a move like that would not help.

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There’s also a story from the Intercept about how Amazon started this program back in 2018 to recruit employees to go on Twitter if they had a clean human resources record and a good sense of humor, who could defend the company by being polite and blunt, according to leaked documents from Amazon. And, apparently, part of the reason everyone thinks all of them are bots is that they were instructed to all use a specific Twitter format — a name and the initials FC (for Fulfillment Center). Very human and organic, yes. Not at all creepy, Dear Leader behavior, even a little bit. Also, the operation was named Veritas.

By the way, these employees were specifically instructed to ignore any tweets that came their way mentioning the union. And honestly, the whole thing has gone so deep that even the ones that seemed human … weren’t. Like the FC account who tweeted that she was “barely scraping by” and didn’t want to add union dues to her monthly expenses. That tweet was followed by a series of tweets clarifying that, in fact, she’s doing fine, Amazon is great, she’s more than scraping by and the CEO is awesome. That turned out to be a parody account. But I think the fact that it seemed so possible might suggest it’s time to move on from this initiative.

And as we were talking about all this, our producer Stephanie Hughes was reminded of the time she toured a fulfillment center back in 2019, when one of Amazon’s other PR ideas was to bring people to the warehouses so they could see how cool they were. On the tour of a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, when Steph was paired with a Girl Scout troop, she spoke with Jessica Ribbecke, who was a tour ambassador and whose job it was to pack boxes all day and tape them shut. Here’s that exchange:

Regan Quilty leads a tour of Girl Scouts at the New Jersey Amazon fulfillment center. The girls learned how humans interact with robots at the warehouse.
Regan Quilty leads a tour of Girl Scouts at the New Jersey Amazon fulfillment center back in 2019. The girls learned how humans interact with robots at the warehouse. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

Stephanie Hughes: What’s an average day like for you? Like, tell me about your day.

Jessica Ribbecke: An average day? Well, oh boy, an average day?

Amazon PR: There is no average day.

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Ribbecke: I really don’t have … every day is different. Every day is different.

Hughes: What do you like about work?

Ribbecke: I like people. I like to be here with people, with all these people. I like everything. I like my job. I like packing. I like the people I work with. I like the building.

Hughes: What’s challenging about it?

Ribbecke: Nothing. I don’t have any challenges.

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Hughes: It’s got to be a little hard.

Ribbecke: No, nothing.

Hughes: You don’t get tired?

Ribbecke: No. Drink some chocolate milk in the morning and you’re good to go all day.

Uh-huh. Chocolate milk and no challenges at all. Sounds totally veritas.

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Elon Musk Says He’ll Pay $11 Billion in Taxes in 2021 But Twitter Wants ‘Proof’

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Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify once and for all that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes this year.

If the number of times Elon Musk could count when someone has asked him to pay the full taxes, he would be a very rich..wait, never mind. The Tesla boss is rich beyond any private individual has been in history, reports said.

Musk has increasingly been facing criticism from many politicians and many others who insist he has not been paying taxes as compared to the profits his companies have been making. On Sunday, the SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to share that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes.

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2021

But some of the questions did not stop. One person tweeted how they needed to see Musk’s tax returns while yet another asked how much percentage was that of his total income.

A few were, however scathing of the government who thought they will add that amount to their pockets rather than using it for some proper development.

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Wow that’s enough to give each person in the world almost $2 million but instead the government will just stick it in their pockets— greg (@greg16676935420) December 20, 2021

Why not $200 billion? Asking for a Senator— litquidity (@litcapital) December 20, 2021

Earlier this week, Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren has tweeted to say that Musk should pay taxes and stop “freeloading off everyone else” after Time magazine named him its “person of the year”.

In response, Musk shot four tweets in which he said that the senator reminded him of a friend’s angry mom who yelled at everybody. He tweeted, ““And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year.” “Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.”

He added further, “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.”

Musk responded by saying that he “will pay more taxes than any American in history this year”. This Twitter exchange left netizens divided as even though many supported Warren and agreed that Musk should pay more taxes, others felt that he was already doing enough.

Musk’s Tesla is worth about $1 trillion. Over the last few weeks, he has sold nearly $14 billion worth of Tesla shares.

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The Tesla boss has been pushing for his colonize Mars agenda for years now, and has made it very clear in some occasions that he would rather spend the money on putting humanity on the red planet, than pay his taxes. “My plan,” the SpaceX founder tweeted about his fortune, “is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness.”

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Twitter Admits Policy ‘Errors’ After Far-Right Abuse Its New Rules of Posting Pictures

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Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.

Even the social network admitted the rollout of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.

It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.

Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”

“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.

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Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.

Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.

“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.

In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”

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But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

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By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”

“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.

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Jack Dorsey Post Twitter Is Chasing His Crypto, Fintech Dream

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At a packed Miami conference in June, Jack Dorsey, mused in front of thousands of attendees about where his real passion lay: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin.”

On Monday, Dorsey made good on one part of that, announcing he would leave Twitter for the second time, handing the CEO position to a 10-year veteran at the firm. The 45-year-old entrepreneur, who is often described as an enigma with varied interests from meditation to yoga to fashion design, plans to pursue his passion which include focusing on running Square and doing more philanthropic work, according to a source familiar with his plan.

Well before the surprise news, Dorsey had laid the groundwork for his next chapter, seeding both companies with cryptocurrency-related projects.

Underlying Dorsey’s broader vision is the principle of “decentralisation,” or the idea that technology and finance should not be concentrated among a handful of gatekeepers, as it is now, but should, instead, be steered by the hands of the many, either people or entities.

The concept has played out at Square, which has built a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing Bitcoin’s popularity globally. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 44.52 lakh as of 12:50pm IST on December 1.

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Dorsey has been a longtime proponent of Bitcoin, and the appeal is that the cryptocurrency will allow for private and secure transactions with the value of Bitcoin unrelated to any government.

The idea has also underpinned new projects at Twitter, where Dorsey tapped a top lieutenant – and now the company’s new CEO Parag Agrawal – to oversee a team that is attempting to construct a decentralised social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

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The project called Bluesky will aim to allow users control over the types of content they see online, removing the “burden” on companies like Twitter to enforce a global policy to fight abuse or misleading information, Dorsey said in 2019 when he announced Bluesky.

Bitcoin has also figured prominently at both of his companies. Square became one of the first public companies to own Bitcoin assets on its balance sheet, having invested $220 million (roughly Rs. 1,650 crore) in the cryptocurrency.

In August, Square created a new business unit called TBD to focus on Bitcoin. The company is also planning to build a hardware wallet for Bitcoin, a Bitcoin mining system, as well as a decentralised Bitcoin exchange.

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Twitter allows users to tip their favourite content creators with Bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

Analysts see the transition as a positive signal for Square, the fintech platform he co-founded in 2009. Square’s core Cash App, after a bull run in its share in 2020, has experienced slower growth in the most recent quarter. It is also trying to digest the $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,17,240 crore) acquisition of Buy Now Pay Later provider Afterpay, its largest acquisition ever.

But these ambitions will not pay off until years from now, analysts cautioned.

“The blockchain platform they’re trying to develop is great but also fraught with technical challenges and difficult to scale for consumers. I think he’ll focus more on Square and crypto will be part of that,” said Christopher Brendler, an analyst at DA Davidson.

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© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Interested in cryptocurrency? We discuss all things crypto with WazirX CEO Nischal Shetty and WeekendInvesting founder Alok Jain on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

Cryptocurrency is an unregulated digital currency, not a legal tender and subject to market risks. The information provided in the article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort offered or endorsed by NDTV. NDTV shall not be responsible for any loss arising from any investment based on any perceived recommendation, forecast or any other information contained in the article.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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