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A hot potato: Amazon's reputation for having a toxic work environment has been strengthened by a report that claims the company's planned internal messaging app filtered words that could make it sound bad or related to unions.
According The Intercept, the planned employee messaging app has a filter that flagged words many have come to associate with Amazon's working conditions through years of negative reports on the company.
Some of the blocked terms included "union," "slave labor," "grievance," "living wage," "prison," and "plantation." Even using the word "restrooms" was disallowed, likely due to claims that many employees, especially delivery drivers, are forced to urinate in bottles because of the unrealistic targets and deadlines imposed on them.
The publication writes that in November 2021, Amazon held a meeting where executives discussed plans to create a social media platform specifically for employees that would highlight co-workers' performance using posts called "Shout-Outs."
The idea was for these Shout-Outs to be integrated into Amazon's gamification rewards system that awards employees with virtual stars and badges for high productivity. But there were warnings about the "dark side of social media," so it was agreed that employee posts would be monitored if the platform ever became a reality.
A list of words was devised that would be blocked if they appeared in any employee messages—the app was to be more like dating app Bumble, where workers engaged with each other one on one, rather than something more traditional like Facebook.
In addition to profanities, words that could be critical of Amazon's workplace and practices were banned. "union," "grievance," "pay raise," and "compensation" were off-limits, along with "ethics," "unfair," "slave," "master," "freedom," "diversity," "injustice," "vaccine," and "fairness." Even phrases such as "This is concerning" or "This is dumb" were on the list.
Amazon gave a statement defending its plan, saying that even if the internal platform went ahead, only "offensive and harassing" words would be flagged, while many (but not all) of those on the list would be allowed.
"Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other," Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait said in a statement to The Verge. "This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all. If it does launch at some point down the road, there are no plans for many of the words you're 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."
Back in January, the controversial Amazon FC Ambassador program, which involved the retail giant paying workers to tweet about how amazing it is to work at the company, was shuttered.