The Hashtag That Rose from the Dead: #DeleteUber

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It has been almost a month since January 28th, the first day of the #DeleteUber campaign that we have discussed in class on numerous occasions. Despite how ground breaking this campaign was at the time, due to the fast paced nature of social media this had ceased to be a focal point not only on the Twitter feed but also on the various news sources that initially covered it. Unfortunately for Uber, this fading into the background of the #DeleteUber movement came to an end this past Sunday, February 19th.

The public controversy over Uber was reignited on February 19th when Susan Fowler, a former Uber site reliability engineer (SRE) who resigned from the company in December, published a post on her blog titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber”. Her post outlines her experience during the year of her career spent at Uber, exposing details on the multiple instances she was subject to both sexism and sexual harassment at the company. Despite her numerous attempts to report this behavior, no action was ever taken against those responsible. This pattern occurred repeatedly up until what Fowler deemed the final straw: when an Uber HR representative implied that since Fowler was the common denominator in all the reports she filed, this must be her fault.

For those interested in reading all the details of each report she filed see the link to her original post here.

The severity of this issue and its effects on Uber’s workforce is highlighted by the statistics Fowler presents at the end of her post: when she first began her career at Uber her group consisted of over 25% women. By the time she left the company a year later that percentage had subsequently decreased to 6%.

“Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit”-Susan Fowler

CEO REACTION

In response to Fowler’s blog post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick immediately announced the opening of what he calls an urgent investigation into her claims. Kalanick stated that this was the first time he had ever been notified of these allegations, ones he says if true, are actions that go against everything the company stands for and believes in.
“We seek to make Uber a just workplace FOR EVERYONE and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber – and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”-Travis Kalanick
Kalanick also took to his Twitter account to vocalize his opinions, posting: “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired. I’ve instructed our CHRO Liane to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.” around 8:00 PM Sunday night.
I personally was pleasantly surprised not only by the appropriateness of the CEO’s response but also by how timely he delivered it. This was unexpected because of how they handled the immigration controversy earlier this year and because Kalanick has previously come under public criticism for sexist comments he made towards women during an interview he had with GQ in 2014. (Link to interview here)

PUBLIC REACTION

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Despite this immediate announcement from the leader of the company, individuals still took to Twitter to once again criticize the company, revitalizing the hashtag #DeleteUber used previously to voice opinions on Uber’s attempt to profit off a protest organized against President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
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The consensus among Twitter users seems to be that while the posts have died down since the initial campaign, the frustration over Uber’s actions following Trump’s executive order still very much exists among the public. Fowler’s blog post seems to have only fueled the fire initially created by Uber’s previous actions.
This second movement of #DeleteUber has the potential to create massive issues for the company. During the week following the first campaign, news sources were able to quantify the effect this Twitter movement had..officially reporting that over 200,000 users made good on their promises to delete their Uber accounts. Unlike some other social media campaigns, this one is really becoming a reality. This may be at least partially attributed to the rise of rival companies such as Lyft, making it easier for customers to switch ride sharing services when the company they currently use behaves so controversially. Something they would be more reluctant to do if no substitute services existed.

The Future 

Due to how recently this second #DeleteUber campaign occurred, it is still too early to find official estimates on just how many more users will take action and delete their accounts. Nonetheless, it will definitely be interesting to watch this saga play out. It seems Uber is getting themselves into dangerous territory by garnering public criticism that has the real potential to alienate many customers, driving those users to switch to competitors’ services.

Food for Thought

Would you #DeleteUber due to the recent controversies they have been involved in? Do you believe the company has responded appropriately to each wave of these calls on Twitter to #DeleteUber? Is this a serious threat for their business? Comment what you think!

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7 comments

  1. Love this post! I don’t use Uber, but I don’t know if I did if I would delete it. On one hand, I can totally understand where someone would want to align morals with the company they choose to use/endorse. On the other hand, Uber’s downfall would hurt a lot more than just the people doing those awful things. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens…

  2. Woah… 200,000 people who deleted Uber… that is incredible power. This was a horrible incident and even worse timing for the companies PR. I think Travis actually responded well for the position he was in. It is difficult for me to blame the entire organization and specifically the CEO for what happened. With that said, I think a holistic review of their HR’s treatment of sexual harassment cases should be thorough and eventually opened to the public. Uber will want to continue getting ahead of this situation as it further develops.

  3. Great post. I would be interested to find out what percentage of people who used the hashtag delete Uber stood by their opinions and deleted the app. Same as Anders, I was surprised by the large amount of people that deleted it. The fact that this type of business possess low switching costs for consumers, makes me think how much more Uber should be careful with their actions, especially in a sensitive case like this. However, I do not think that this will be a serious threat to Uber, and when things calm down with time I think they will be able to increase their customer base and continue growing.

  4. I try to use Fasten and Lyft when they are available because they pay their employees more and it is also cheaper for me. I haven’t deleted uber, but after these two stories they are not my first choice when I need a ride. It would be interesting to see where the 200,000 people who deleted uber are located. I feel like in large urban cities it is easy to delete uber because there are competitors. I am wondering if in more rural areas people are less likely to delete uber due to the fact that there are no other similar applications.

  5. At first I was surprised at the 200,000 figure, but when you realize Uber has 40 million monthly active users, it quickly becomes apparent that Uber can (unfortunately) probably brush this off. What I found more interesting is that you’d think that Uber would notice that it’s hemorrhaging talent, especially its women, sooner than it did. I wonder what repercussions that will have on finding talent if valuable candidates won’t trust the organization anymore.

  6. As much as Uber may be hemorrhaging talent or users, competitors like Lyft are hemorrhaging money to try to gain some of Ubers market share. While both companies have been growing, Lyft’s growth does not appear to be at the expense of Uber since as of August 2016 Uber was growing faster. I’d be interested to see more recent data but I don’t see how Lyft can sustain their current spending patterns.
    http://fortune.com/2016/08/03/uber-july-data/

  7. Nice post. I follow alot of Silicon Valley people on Twitter, and they are noting that the company has begun a smear war on Susan Fowler behind the scenes. Will be interesting to see if this story comes back.

    PS. If you want to dig into this more, be sure to follow @sarahcuda on twitter (Sarah Lacy, of Pando Daily). She’s on a one-woman crusade to destroy Uber.

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