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#DeleteUber demonstrates the power of consumer boycott

ByCassandra Wright

Feb 8, 2017

What are the consequences of deleting an app? Boycotting can have devastating effects. Companies rely on consumers to make profit, and if consumers withdraw their support, it is hard for a company to thrive, let alone survive. That is the goal of #DeleteUber: a hashtag which encourages users to boycott Uber to punish the car-sharing company for its perceived wrongs.

During a taxi cab strike at JFK airport in show of solidarity with those affected by Trump’s Muslim ban, Uber sent out a tweet to say that they were suspending surge prices during the protest. The move was met with criticism, to put it lightly, many felt that Uber was deliberately turning a blind eye to the cab strike in order to capitalise from it.

In December 2016, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick made headlines after being appointed to President Trump’s advisory council. This, coupled with the JFK airport furore, alienated much of Uber’s consumer base, many of whom disavowed the app altogether, catalysing the anger behind the hashtag.
Understandably, there are many who want to see Uber punished for their mistakes. But how exactly is Uber, a private company, supposed to respond to this public outcry?

Uber has so far failed to control the backlash. They have since released statements denouncing the boycott, stating that they did not intend to break up the strike, and promising to assist employees affected. Yet this has not stopped hundreds of users from deleting their accounts.

The ability of social media to bring about such immediate results is remarkable. It sends a powerful message to major companies, demonstrating the extent to which the consumers they rely upon can drive corporate-level decision making. Uber is among many companies who have tried to reconcile a moral compulsion to stand up to Donald Trump (what Twitter wants) with a need to make sure that the company’s wellbeing is taken care of – a balancing act which ultimately saw Kalanick resign from his role on the President’s advisory board.

Clearly, Uber’s response to the taxi strike was insulting, failing to adequately address the concerns of their consumers. But how fair is it for us to single out Uber? We must look to hold others accountable where necessary.

Further, by focusing on how best to damage Uber, the impact upon its drivers has been casually dismissed. It is unlikely that #DeleteUber will substantially affect the wealth of its CEO, but it could very well affect the livelihoods of its drivers, thousands of whom are immigrants, and most of whom have felt the detrimental impact of the boycott.

This is not to say that action is not justified. But it is important to consider the unintended consequences a total boycott of Uber would have. Uber is a money-grabbing company that does not care for its employees, but by attacking it we must also think about how those at the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder will be impacted. Yes, we can dismantle a shady company: but this threatens to imply a disregard for the many employees who are the company’s lifeblood. Boycotting is more than a refusal to buy into a company. It is a powerful form of dissent, ensuring that big companies remain accountable to the little guy.

It is our responsibility as engaged citizens to protest injustice and try our best to enact change. But it also our duty to think about the nature of the changes we want, and this is a task where, perhaps, the Uber boycott fell short.


Image: Elekes Andor

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