On Wednesday, a horde of Amazon employees rushed to defend the honor of the world's richest man.
The employees—known as "FC ambassadors," for Amazon's Orwellian-sounding “fulfillment center” warehouses—flooded into the mentions of several Twitter users.
This isn’t the first time these accounts have attracted attention. Earlier this year, the accounts descended on Twitter with coordinated anti-union talking points. The FC Ambassador program made its debut last August and also seemed to coordinate talking points about how great it was to work at Amazon. The program backfired most recently after a Twitter thread of FC ambassadors went viral, with many people saying the tweets were dark or dystopian (others raised doubts about their legitimacy).
When TechCrunch first covered the Amazon FC Ambassador accounts in August 2018, there were around 14 accounts. That army has grown. This week, Motherboard found more than 40 FC Ambassador accounts on Twitter which appear to be genuine. Open source intelligence collective Bellingcat did their own investigation, and found close to 60 accounts.
The accounts are spread across the world, with users not just based in the U.S., but Spain, the UK, Germany, and elsewhere too.
It appears that the accounts rotate through different users. Some accounts have been active since the program launched in August 2018, while others seem to be cycled through more frequently. Other accounts are active for short periods of time before staying inactive for months.
This isn't suspicious in and of itself; Amazon said ambassadors fill the role on social media to "share their experiences of working in an FC.”
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The rotated accounts are concentrated in specific fulfillment centers and don’t delete past tweets, meaning you can trace some accounts as they’ve been handed off. One account has switched between three people at the Kent, Washington fulfillment center: Michelle, a tall white woman who enjoys gardening; Sarah, who loves art and wrote a haiku about the joys of Amazon employment; and Rafael, a Filipino man with a background in financial planning.
The vast majority of accounts posted tweets using a social media management tool called Sprinklr, Motherboard found. It appears that many of the FC Ambassador accounts are linked to an Amazon email address specifically created for handling part of the FC's social media presence. Using the password reset mechanism on Twitter, Motherboard found most of the Twitter account email addresses started with "fc" and ended up with a suffix that was likely amazon.com.
But even some former Amazon Ambassadors aren't convinced by the Amazon Twitter accounts.
"That account you linked to seemed suspiciously fake. Like they hired a PR person to work as an associate for a bit or something" one former ambassador, who didn't hold a social media role while working at the company, told Motherboard (not all ambassadors who work at the company are part of the social media campaign). Motherboard gave the source anonymity to talk more candidly about internal Amazon processes, and because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the company.
"You'd never expect to see a FedEx or UPS factory worker making posts about how great it is to work there."
In an email to Motherboard, Amazon said the accounts were controlled by full-time employees at Amazon that also work in the building. The former ambassador, however, told Motherboard, after reviewing one account in particular, that "the vest she [the ambassador] is wearing doesn't seem like an on floor ambassador vest. Most people wearing those vest colors were either off floor or from out of town."
The former ambassador also said that Amazon had posters that would encourage employees to post positive things on social media about working at Amazon, but he never knew of anyone that did or would want to.
"You'd never expect to see a FedEx or UPS factory worker making posts about how great it is to work there," he said.
All Amazon fulfillment centers have a four digit alphanumeric code that identifies them. Simply putting one of the FC Ambassador hubs as a hashtag, especially an overseas code (#BCN1, for example) will pull up a plethora of posts celebrating how great it is to work at Amazon (you’ll have to translate most of them from Spanish, however).
An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard that FC ambassadors are "paid in the same manner as others in the building" but didn't specify if there was any difference in compensation beyond that.
As Joseph A. McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, pointed out to the New York Times, this isn't a particularly new technique. A century ago, the Rockefellers used PR and labor consultants to “promote its image as a model employer, despite the fact its labor practices had set off strikes that led to [a] massacre.”
Today, Amazon has a lot to distract the public from: a massive surveillance program, a burgeoning monopoly, and hellish working conditions (to name a few). Given Amazon's $41 billion cash on hand, it’s surprising how threadbare and poorly thought out this effort seems to be. The effort, though, has quickly backfired on Amazon and focused criticism on some of those problems.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.