Update: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has announced that he will step down from President Trump's economic advisory council. In the memo, obtained by Refinery29, Kalanick says, "Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that." He goes on to point out two key reasons for leaving: "Inside Out - The implicit assumption that Uber (or I) was somehow endorsing the Administration’s agenda has created a perception-reality gap between who people think we are, and who we actually are. Just Change - We must believe that the actions we take ultimately move the ball forward. There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that. The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America. Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas and there’s a growing fear the U.S. is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants." The move is a surprising one, given that Kalanick defended his reasons for joining the economic advisory council in a message to employees just five days ago. However, it's clear that the public response and that of his employees played a role. He closed the email with the following: "Please know, your questions and stories on Tuesday, along with what I heard from drivers, have kept me resilient and reminded me of one of our most essential cultural values, Be Yourself. We will fight for the rights of immigrants in our communities so that each of us can be who we are with optimism and hope for the future."
This piece was originally published on January 31, 2017. Since posting a poorly timed tweet about pricing at JFK Airport during Saturday's protests, Uber has faced a boycott from users.
A day later, another tweet tried to mitigate the effects of the first, but it was too late. The first tweet had sparked the trending #DeleteUber hashtag (sometimes accompanied by the hand waving emoji) and has led many people to literally delete the Uber app from their devices. Meanwhile, Lyft — which announced on Sunday that it would donate a million dollars to the ACLU — has become the most downloaded ride-sharing app, rising to the eighth spot on Apple's top free downloaded apps. Uber has fallen to number 16. Now, the company is, as Jimmy Kimmel said last night, uber sorry and working uber hard to make amends.
First, Uber posted an email in its newsroom, which CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick sent to employees, stating his opposition to the travel ban and plans to compensate drivers. That post was titled "Standing up for what's right." It was followed up by another post titled, 'Standing up for the driver community," about steps the company will take to aid drivers, including creating "a $3 million legal defense fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services." If you feel like you've been seeing more messages from Uber across all your social channels, you're not imagining it. Mashable reports that Uber has paid for sponsored and promoted posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all promoting the actions outlined in its newsroom announcements. Those who deleted their account received the standard "we're sad to see you go" follow-up email. But this time, it was accompanied by an additional message about Uber's stance against the travel ban.
But at a certain point, these repetitive messages, while appreciated, fall on deaf ears. The power of hashtivism has turned the tide against Uber, and it's unclear if people will ever forget the tweet and, if they do, return to using Uber. In the Trump era, it seems more people are paying attention to the values held by the companies they put their money into. However, it's still important to investigate a trending hashtag before rushing to action. As New York Magazine points out, Lyft should not be viewed as exempt from judgment, either. Uber's Kalanick is part of President Trump's economic advisory group, but Lyft stakeholder Peter Thiel played a prominent role in Trump's transition team. The difference in this case is that Lyft was very clear on its stance against the travel ban right off the bat. As we move forward, trying to determine which companies align with your principles will become trickier, and we're likely to encounter more blurred lines. To stay informed, follow your favorite companies on social media, but also read public messages they've put out in their newsroom, and do a Google search to see coverage of their responses to various issues over the years. And to all the major companies out there, let this be a lesson: Be careful with your Twitter trigger finger.