Amazon employees are up in arms and stepping up the pressure on the higher brass to remove Amazon advertisements from the Breitbart News site. The overwhelming consensus from frustrated employees is the “alt-right” news site promotes discrimination, and it makes them feel “unsafe.”
According to internal emails in February retrieved by BuzzFeed News, dozens of Amazon employees are voicing deep concerns through internal emails that Amazon advertise on Breitbart, despite being an outspoken critic of President Trump’s immigration policies. They are urging the company to cut ties with the news site.
CEO Jeff Bezos denounced President Trump’s immigration policy in a statement to employees. “This executive order is one we do not support,” he wrote. “Our public policy team in D.C. has reached out to senior administration officials to make our opposition clear. To our employees in the U.S. and around the world who may be directly affected by this order, I want you to know that the full extent of Amazon’s resources are behind you.”
Amazon joined Expedia filing a sworn statement in Washington state court to aid in the state attorney general’s lawsuit against the president’s order.
Regardless of Bezo’s position, employees are not assuaged. “Given HR’s and Jeff’s latest statements on the immigration executive order, keeping Amazon ads on Breitbart, a white nationalist website which has been promoting the same hateful rhetoric behind the EO for years, is directly contradictory to the principles HR and Jeff claim Amazon stand for,” an employee wrote in an internal email. “The current stance (from the [complaint ticket]) doesn’t make me feel safe as an Amazon employee.”
One employee wrote in the email chain, “Without naming names, I can attest that several employees have come to me in the past month questioning this exact point and I’ve stopped them from leaving the company.”
Complaints have run the gamut of the fearful leftist propaganda from, “The current stance doesn’t make me feel safe as an Amazon employee,” to “I believe that Amazon employees have the right to reject profiting from and funding any website they personally disagree with.” Amazon’s Associates program’s rules state that publishers using its advertising API may not “promote discrimination,” a line item that a number of Amazon employees feel Breitbart violates.
Then there are those trying to appeal to the online superstore’s bottom line. “While I understand the business concerns and the current climate make talking about this kind of thing a minefield, we’re rapidly approaching the point where not talking about it will only foment bad blood, and at best we’ll start silently losing customers and employees,” the employee wrote on the internal email chain. “That’s not the Amazon I know.”
In spite of this turbulence within the employee ranks, Amazon has not taken Breitbart out of its advertising lineup. Amazon’s ad team did respond to the employee complaint ticket, responding, “As per guidance from PR/Policy/Legal, the DA team is not blocking breitbart.com,” Amazon’s ad team wrote. “As per prior guidance ‘our customers are choosing to go there. It is not our place to assume why they’re going there, or impose our own standards.'”
The complaint ticket was then closed by human resources.
There is no relationship between Amazon and Breitbart. Amazon advertisements appearing on the news site are placed through an algorithm and automatically purchased from a third party advertising exchange inventory. The ads are adjusted so that Amazon customers see them on web sites they visit. If no Amazon customers visited Breitbart, no Amazon ads would appear there.
“I actually do believe Amazon does have the right to follow its customers to wherever they may spend their time online, but I also believe that amazon employees have the right to reject profiting from and funding any web site they personally disagree with,” one employee wrote in an email. “It seems evident now that for some current Amazonians, Breitbart is one of those sites.”
Amazon’s decision to close the Breitbart complaint ticket without changing its advertising and cutting ties with Breitbart.com caused confusion and disappointment among Amazon employees.
“Maybe I’m misreading this but it sounds like we’ve made a very conscious decision to keep advertising on Breitbart,” one employee wrote. Another bemoaned, “I’m deeply, deeply disappointed in Amazon if that’s actually the policy.”
Amazon isn’t only taking heat from its own employees, but also grassroots activists protesting and gaining steam and signatures to influence and manipulate what and with whom companies advertise or do business. They contend to protest racism, misogyny and xenophobia, and pressure companies doing business with those they deem to fit this profile. Hundreds of companies – including some prominent brands like Kelloggs – have caved to the threats and manipulation, and pledged to stop ad buys on Breitbart. A petition on the site sumofus.org, titled, “Amazon: Stop Investing in Hate,” has collected over 550,000 signatures. Meanwhile, an anonymous collective of marketers, called, “Sleeping Giants,” has called out over 1,600 advertisers and pressured them to remove their ad dollars from the news site.
According to the CNBC web site, on March 22, a group of Amazon employees once again took a stance with the company’s ads on Breitbart in an email to CEO Jeff Bezos and SVP Jeff Blackburn. The email with the header, “Amazon Must Stop Advertising on Breitbart News,” included a petition opposing Amazon’s continued advertising on Breitbart and included 564 signatures.
According to the email, an Amazon employee confronted Blackburn at the company’s March all-hands meeting about advertising on a site that the employee said, “regularly publishes hateful and bigoted content.” Blackburn allegedly had no response.
Ongoing employee dissatisfaction with their feelings going unheeded has purportedly caused the company to take a second look at their ad practices and the exchanges they use for ad placement, according to the CNBC news site. Blackburn stated through internal emails, “I want you to know that it is something we are looking at very regularly. We have our eyes on it.”
Blackburn’s remarks did little to subdue employees’ discontent. They attached a PDF to an email of personal comments from additional employees. One quoted a Breitbart headline: “‘There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews’ – the fact that the company’s dollars pay for headlines like this make it very difficult for those of us putting in efforts to recruit and retain more women in technical roles.”
When BuzzFeed News first reported the story in February, only 34 employees had filed individual complaints to management. With a petition now in circulation with nearly 600 signatories, many of whom are women, people of color, or LGBTQ, momentum is growing.
According to BuzzFeed, there appears to be a movement to address the issue and sources said Amazon leadership met with an employee representative of the group behind the petition last week. “They are now taking it very seriously,” an Amazon employee familiar with discussions told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not a finalized decision, but it’s at least moving in the right direction.”
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