Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Twitter Accounts Ostensibly Belonging to Amazon Employees Are Promoting the Company as It Faces a Unionization Push

Ben Gilbert, Insider:

“Hey everyone!! This is Yola from Oak4,” an account tied to an employee named Yola said last week. “I just joined a program where I am able to answer any questions, comments or concerns you may have about Amazon. I can’t wait to share what my experience working here has been like for me.”

The account, like several others reviewed by Insider, was started in March 2021. Rather than posting, the accounts focus on responding to people tweeting about the company.

Back in 2018, Amazon admitted to paying a small army of employees to tweet positive things about the company.

Not coincidentally, warehouse workers in Alabama finished voting yesterday on whether they should unionize; the result is expected in the coming days. But it is unclear which, if any, of these accounts are part of an Amazon astroturfing campaign, and which are fraudulent.

Here’s the BBC:

Many of the accounts involved used the handle @AmazonFC followed by a first name.

Amazon has previously used this handle for its so-called Amazon Ambassadors – real employees who are paid by the firm to promote and defend it on Twitter.

[…]

Several of the high-profile accounts have been suspended by Twitter. It told the BBC that Amazon Ambassadors are subject to Twitter’s rules on spam and platform manipulation.

Accounts which impersonate or falsely claim to be affiliated with a company, can be temporarily suspended or removed.

In 2019, Amazon reused some of these Twitter accounts under new names; this time, a bunch of new accounts surfaced with profile pictures cribbed from AI face generators. One of the more notable new accounts was “Darla’s”, as Matt Novak of Gizmodo explains:

Just take a look at the ears and the way the hair falls if you need any evidence that the photo of “Darla” is computer generated.

But photos aside, is Darla possibly real in other ways? Frankly, it’s really hard to tell. Some of the tweets almost seem purposely obtuse in the way that a troll might tweet.

“Amazon is NOT union busting, I can not stress that enough! Amazon is just trying to prevent employees from fraternizing or organizing outside of company-approved channels,” Darla tweeted over the weekend.

If that seems a little too perfect, that’s probably because it is. Aric Toler of Bellingcat spotted that the account was associated with a Gmail address instead of an Amazon one. That was the case for many of these new accounts, as Emanuel Maiberg of Vice says:

@AmazonFCDarla and @AmazonFCLulu are just two of the accounts Twitter suspended yesterday. Another used a photo of a guy from Dude Perfect, the YouTube trickshot guys; it was quickly suspended. Other ambassador accounts that appear to be endorsed and operated by Amazon, are still online, and posting only slightly less deranged content about how much they love working at Amazon. The accounts belonging to Amazon were registered with @amazon.com emails. The accounts we noticed had seemingly AI-generated faces were registered with other emails, or required an email before continuing the account verification process. @AmazonFCDarla and other seemingly fake Amazon ambassador accounts had open direct messages. The official Amazon ambassador accounts did not.

It’s kind of funny that Amazon thought these “ambassador” accounts — there are still some real ones — were a great PR move in the first place. It uses a predictable format and doesn’t control the Twitter namespace, so it is trivial for others to create parody accounts that highlight many of the reasons workers are unionizing. But I am not surprised many people fell for these tweets. Amazon’s PR strategy has been so hostile lately that a member of its security team filed a report speculating that the @AmazonNews account may have been accessed by an unauthorized user.

Regardless, the collapse of context on Twitter makes it easy to create the impression of legitimacy with little work. It sort of feels like screaming into the void to encourage extra vigilance on Twitter, but I think we can all remind ourselves and each other to be more careful about reacting strongly to tweets from new and unfamiliar sources.