Amazon ready to launch employee messaging app that reportedly censors key words and phrases

Amazon’s plan to launch an employee messaging app reportedly includes censorship protocols to block terms like “living wage,” “slave labor,” “pay raise” and “union” that they claim may result in “negative associate experiences” as they struggle with employee attrition.

Top executives met in November 2021 to discuss the development of an internal social media platform with the stated goal of promoting a positive work environment that would, ideally, result in gains to productivity. The Intercept was the first to report on the internal documents that revealed how this app may actually have been intended to control workplace perception.

While Dave Clark, head of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, stated “Shout-Outs,” a recognition system to laud the performance of coworkers, and reward participants in a gamified system that “add direct business value” the reality appeared to have more to do with crackdowns on attempts to unionize or stage walkouts.

The pilot program that is scheduled to begin later this month includes an “auto bad word monitor” that blocks messages from being sent if they include any list or phrase deemed inappropriate. In addition to profanities and slurs, the proposed list included, “grievance,” “compensation,” “unfair,” “master,” “I hate,” “this is dumb,” and even “restrooms,” likely included after numerous reports of employees urinating in bottles to keep up with productivity demands.

“With free text,” the internal documents explained, “we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers. We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.”

“If it does launch at some point down the road,” Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait said, “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.”

Though Agrait continued to insist, “Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,” and that, “This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all,” the proposals as reported do suggest that Amazon is more interested in controlling employee perception of the workplace than they are in listening to feedback and improving the work environment.

The timing of this report about aims to suppress talk of “petitions,” “committees,” and “coalitions” happened to follow the announcement Friday that Amazon’s Staten Island, NY facility had become the first to establish a union within the company.

A previous attempt in Bessemer, AL had failed before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) interceded and called for a second vote that was also held last week. Evidently, the results are being contested and, as last reported, remain too close to call.

“We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island,” Amazon announced in a statement, “because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees. We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

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