Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen “Amazon FC Ambassador” accounts have cropped up on Twitter to defend the e-commerce giant against criticisms of working conditions at its fulfillment centers. The accounts apparently belong to actual Amazon employees who work as stockers, stowers, and managers at warehouses in San Marcos, Texas, and Kent, Washington.
The ambassadors primarily show up in the mentions of people who are discussing Amazon, particularly in response to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s recent tweets highlighting the income gap between CEO Jeff Bezos and the median Amazon employee, and to an investigative report that found that employees have been urinating in bottles to avoid missing target numbers. They’ve attempted to dispel these allegations by recounting their own idyllic experiences as employees and marshaling often identical statistics, as TechCrunch has pointed out. They’re also unfailingly cheery, always a jarring sight on Twitter.
Though the accounts have been parroting talking points and effuse a preternatural affection for Amazon that one would think only artificial intelligence could muster, they do seem to be operated by actual people. Skeptical onlookers are flooding the accounts with demands for proof that they aren’t bots—a sort of dystopian Turing test. A couple ambassadors have responded by posting pictures of themselves holding pieces of paper inscribed with their interrogators’ handles.
Amazon also informed the Guardian that real employees are manning the accounts. The ambassadors have claimed that they do not receive any additional compensation to do PR on social media, but that this is rather one of their duties while at work. It seems that most of them have worked at Amazon for at least a year.
The accounts do make an effort to be transparent about their purpose: Their usernames all end with the title “Amazon FC Ambassador,” they all have the same Amazon logo as their cover image, and they will readily inform people that their Twitter advocacy is one of their work duties. All of their accounts also feature a link to a website where people can sign up to take a tour of one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. Still, it would be easy to mistake the ambassadors as being regular fulfillment center employees who are defending their workplace unprompted, especially in a Twitter thread where the broader context wouldn’t necessarily be clear. If this isn’t technically astroturfing, it’s at least astroturf-adjacent.
Judging by the replies to the ambassadors’ tweets, it doesn’t seem like this PR army is doing much for Amazon’s image. Most users have been either arguing with the ambassadors or outright insulting them. The campaign has also given rise to parody accounts that tweet about their fealty to “father Bezos” and the benefits of their “3 minute regulated breaks between shifts.”
If you think Slate’s election coverage matters…
Support our work: become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus