Employees work at an Amazon Fulfillment Center

Amazon’s New Worker Chat Would Reportedly Auto-Ban Words Like ‘Union,’ ‘Restrooms,’ and ‘Ethics’

According to a report from The Intercept, Amazon is working on launching an internal messaging app, which will come with an automatic word monitor that will block a number of words and phrases from use. The terms included on the list, according to internal documents obtained by the outlet, is more than a little concerning.

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The program is in very early planning stages but it’s already off to a terrible start after being outed for planning to ban words including “union,” “compensation,” “living wage,” “slave,” “slave labor,” and “plantation.” This comes on the heels of the successful unionization of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse—the first in the company’s history. Amazon has spent recent years doing everything it can to bust unionization attempts, even as its more abhorrent practices have made headlines, from the injuries sustained due to the breakneck pace required of warehouse workers to reports that those workers, as well as delivery drivers, are often unable to fit bathroom breaks into their schedules. (Maybe that’s why “restrooms” is also on the list of banned words.)

Amazon banning terms related to unionization would be shameful but I suppose understandable (as corporations are expected to preserve their bottom line at the expense of the humans working under capitalism) on its own. But this list takes things about a dozen steps too far and also prohibits the use of words like “ethics,” “fairness,” and “injustice.”

If a company is preventing workers from saying the word “ethics,” it’s because they’re expecting employees to use it in a way that criticizes the ethics of the company, and that’s not great!

On top of all of this, even aside from the labor-related language policing, this list and the reasoning behind it are rooted in such a gross level of toxic positivity that it’s almost unbelievable. Other terms on the banned list include “this is dumb,” “I hate,” “grievance,” and “this is concerning.”

“The major goal of the program, Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, said, was to reduce employee attrition by fostering happiness among workers — and also productivity,” writes The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein. Yes, happier employees are more productive, but it’s wild that the company thinks they can foster happiness by banning negative talk. That’s not how that works!

Company officials told Klippenstein that they decided to monitor and control posts to ensure a “positive community” and avoid what they called “the dark side of social media.”

I don’t know, Amazon, I’d say banning your workers from talking about bathrooms and ethics is pretty dark!

(image: Mark Makela/Getty Images)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.