The backlash against Uber mounts

Faith Merino · November 19, 2014 · Short URL:

Critics call for resignations pronto

Uber’s PR team had better be in for a big fat holiday bonus, because they’ve earned it. The backlash continues to mount after Uber VP Emil Michael suggested (seriously, not jokingly) that the company should devote $1 million to hiring a team of “opposition researchers” and journalists to dig up dirt on the personal lives and families of journalists who say mean things about the company. Specifically, he wanted to target one female journalist in particular—Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily—with the ominous warning that the company already had dirt on her, which suggests that this personal attack strategy isn’t just an idea floating, but is already something the company is doing.

The response to Uber’s expose-the-personal-lives-of-journalists strategy has been profound. Tech blogger Robert Scoble is calling for CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation.

“When I first started work at Microsoft an exec pulled me aside and told me how I could get fired. Pissing off journalists and analysts were very high on the list,” Scoble wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “This is how culture gets translated. It is why I now believe Travis Kalanick has to go. It is the only way to reboot the culture there and have Uber regain its loved status.”

Scoble added: “The investors should insist that Travis go. Then it should repair its relationship with Sarah Lacy and it should be made clear that being anti journalist or anti woman will not be tolerated at all.”

Scoble’s harsh words may be a reaction to Kalanick’s tepid response to the outcry surrounding Michael’s comments. Kalanick said in a series of tweets Tuesday that Michael’s comments were “terrible” and showed a “lack of humanity.” But there are no plans to fire Michael. And don’t worry, everybody—that whole thing about Uber digging into your personal data without your consent? Totally not a thing at all—except it is.

In addition to Robert Scoble's public rebuke, comedian and Daily Show regular John Hodgman announced Wednesday that he is deleting his Uber app over the controversy.

“I'm sure Emil Michael is very talented at what he does and it would probably be hard and/or expensive for Uber to let him go. But this is an executive who advocated for doxxing as corporate policy.”

Because that’s really the problem here. Emil Michael didn’t just make a crass joke or say something sexist or racist—he actually proposed what basically amounts to blackmail as a PR strategy. Bad form, Uber. Bad form all around.

Actor and Silicon Valley angel investor Ashton Kutcher, however, is one of the lone voices standing up for Uber in its time of trial. Kutcher, who seems to believe the plural form of "journalist" is just "journalist," sent out a series of tweets Wednesday in support of Uber. "What is so wrong about digging up dirt on a shady journalist?" he tweeted. In another tweet, he wrote "This should be fun. Here comes the part where journalist explain why they should be exempt from ridicule and judgment and probing..." (To clarify--seriously, there were several tweets in a row in which Kutcher referred to journalists as just "journalist," leading me to think he really doesn't know the plural form of the word.)

Either way, seriously, Uber--big fat ass holiday bonus for the PR team. Seriously. 

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