In 2019, responding to increasing criticism and critical reporting on the horrendous working conditions at Amazon warehouses across the world, the giant corporation deployed an army of Twitter "ambassador" accounts to defend its reputation.
The accounts appeared to be operated by actual Amazon warehouse workers, but all started with "@AmazonFC" in their Twitter handle, and were clearly controlled by and designed to promote Amazon on social media by offering what seems like personal and favorable perspectives on working conditions. At the time, the accounts went viral and, as happens on Twitter, people began making accounts that parodied their dystopian tone, tweeting about some of the poor labor conditions for Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers.
Then, the meme died down and people stopped paying attention to the accounts.
This week, however, as the NLRB begins counting votes in a historic unionization effort in Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and Amazon's public relations apparatus has shifted into a fully combative, fact-free, and erratic strategy, the @AmazonFC accounts have re-emerged. As these accounts have gone viral again, Twitter has begun suspending many "@AmazonFC" accounts. A minority of these accounts might belong to Amazon, and could return once they have corrected whatever violation prompted Twitter to ban them. A majority of these accounts don't belong to Amazon, and could return if they clearly declare themselves as parody accounts, Twitter has told Motherboard.
Whether the Amazon ambassador accounts are truly operated by Amazon, are parodying those accounts, or are just created by trolls to confuse people for no reason, there's one thing they all have in common: they essentially offer no value to Amazon workers or customers, and are all part of Twitter's dysfunctional information environment, where authentic, inauthentic, and malicious content are mixed into one toxic soup that would make any reasonable person give up on learning the truth about what it's like to work at Amazon. This situation, which ultimately helps maintain the status quo, is favorable to Amazon, which can continue raking in unprecedented profits at the expense of its workers.
Twitter, in its statements to Motherboard, seems to be almost as confused as everyone else. One account viewed by Motherboard was suspended, then reinstated, then suspended again. Some accounts have been banned for impersonation, others have been banned for spam and platform manipulation. Using Twitter's password reset feature, it's possible to see at least part of the email address that registered the account; some seem to use Amazon.com email addresses. Many others do not. Twitter has suspended accounts of both types. Amazon has not commented on the situation.
As someone who spends most of his days staring at the internet, and specifically AI-generated human faces, some of the Amazon ambassador accounts that got the most attention recently seemed clearly fake and at least attempting to be funny. Take the now suspended AmazonFCLulu account, for example. '
A closer look at Lulu's avatar reveals the telltale signs of an AI-generated face. Notice, most easily, the strange distortions in the outer edges of her hair and the not-quite-right reflection of lights in the eyes.
It's not something you'd notice just scrolling by on Twitter, (in fact, it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a human and AI-generated face depending on the context), but refresh Thispersondoesnotexist.com enough times and you'll pick up on a similar pattern of distortions.
Even if you've never seen or heard of AI-generated faces in your life, you could also tell Lulu isn't a "real" Amazon ambassador because of the exaggerated, comical sycophancy with which she's defending Amazon.
To be fair, Amazon's public relations machine will aggressively push back on easily verifiable negative reporting and gaslight its own employees. In fact, Lulu's UTI statement here appears to be directly referencing a tweet from the verified Amazon News account, which mocked the notion that Amazon workers resort to peeing in bottles because of how demanding their jobs are. Amazon workers do pee in bottles, and we know this for a fact because they sent us pictures of the bottles, and because Amazon's own internal documents show this as well.
@AmazonFCDarla, another recently banned ambassador account, also featured a seemingly AI-generated face and sycophantic defense of Amazon. "Amazon takes great care of me!" Darla tweeted yesterday. "It isn't anyone's fault that I have children to take care of."
@AmazonFCDarla and @AmazonFCLulu are just two of the accounts Twitter suspended yesterday. Another used a photo of a guy from Dude Perfect, the YouTube trickshot guys; it was quickly suspended. Other ambassador accounts that appear to be endorsed and operated by Amazon, are still online, and posting only slightly less deranged content about how much they love working at Amazon. The accounts belonging to Amazon were registered with @amazon.com emails. The accounts we noticed had seemingly AI-generated faces were registered with other emails, or required an email before continuing the account verification process. @AmazonFCDarla and other seemingly fake Amazon ambassador accounts had open direct messages. The official Amazon ambassador accounts did not.
An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard that Darla is not an Amazon FC Ambassador, and that the company asked Twitter to investigate it and take appropriate action.
Explaining a joke never makes it funny but I believe the joke is that a lineup of slightly monstrous faces are groveling before one of the most powerful entities that have ever existed on this planet, holding in their pee and apologizing for procreating. It's a parody of the real Amazon, which actually makes it difficult for its workers to easily go to the bathroom without paying a price.
I've seen many people online seemingly not get the joke, and think these accounts are real. I don't blame them. Part of the problem here is that Amazon's treatment of its employees, and in particular the way in which the company tried to reshape the reality of working at Amazon on social media was so bald-faced, it would be hilarious if it wasn't true.
"People are really gullible, but it's also Amazon's fault with having these bizarre uncanny valley accounts in the first place, plus their whole pee bottle saga," Aric Toler, a researcher at the open source investigations team Bellingcat, who has been tracking various Amazon ambassador accounts, told Motherboard. "After the initial reports of Amazon FC accounts there were endless bad/obvious parody accounts that popped up. It's happening again now with the labor push and the bad Amazon News tweets."
If you've been taken by an Amazon ambassador account that is now suspended, chances are it was a parody account. But don't feel too bad. If your goal is to find out what it's actually like to work at Amazon, the "authentic" Amazon ambassador accounts are a joke as well.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Amazon.