While some Alabama Amazon workers were submitting their votes to unionize the company’s first US warehouse last week, something strange was happening on Twitter. Accounts seemingly belonging to warehouse workers were tweeting at users supporting the union or making unsavory comments about Amazon in general. Amazon’s anti-union Twitter army has been a subject of criticism and mockery for the last few years, inspiring a slew of accounts parodying actual Amazon ambassadors, but the Bessemer fight brought it all back into the spotlight.
Over the weekend, one parody account, in particular, caught the attention of reporters and Amazon detractors across Twitter: @AmazonFCDarla. Darla’s profile picture looked fake, but the language used in her tweets was eerily similar to that used by real Amazon employees. Publications like Gizmodo quickly debunked Darla’s account. Her profile picture appeared to have been created by an artificial intelligence program like This Person Does Not Exist. Her account was created in March with no tweets dating back to the beginning of Amazon’s ambassador program. And Darla’s tweets were half-baked “in the way that a troll might tweet,” Gizmodo said.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that many of the accounts weren’t created by company employees. “Many of these are not Amazon FC Ambassadors – it appears they are fake accounts that violate Twitter’s terms,” a spokesperson said. “We’ve asked Twitter to investigate and take appropriate action.”
It didn’t take long for Twitter to suspend the Darla account and other fake ones on the grounds of “impersonation.”
Robby Appleton, a comedian from Chicago, came forward on Tuesday saying he had created the Darla account to parody real Amazon Twitter ambassadors. “On Friday, I created a satirical Twitter account making fun of Amazon’s anti-union propaganda,” Appleton said in a tweet earlier this week. “I can’t wrap my head around how far this dumb Twitter account got,” he said in another.
Appleton provided a variety of evidence to back up the claim, including two email responses from Twitter regarding an account suspension he claims to be Darla’s. The first email shows Twitter’s response to his appeal for the account to be reinstated. Appleton also forwarded an email from Twitter confirming that an account belonging to his email was “permanently” suspended for violating the platform’s rules on “impersonation.”
Twitter declined to confirm or deny that Appleton was the user behind the @AmazonFCDarla account on Wednesday.
I spoke with Appleton on Tuesday night about why he started the account and what he would tell Amazon if the company is still paying attention to the gag.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to make the account in the first place?
It was Friday afternoon when I first made the account, and I’d been watching all the news with the Amazon plant in Alabama trying to unionize. I was watching all of the really weird responses from the Amazon News account to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and I was like, “That’s a really insane PR strategy they seem to have.”
Then I started spotting these Amazon FC accounts, and I knew there were a lot of parodies, but a couple of them seemed legitimate. They had very little engagement, like three or four followers. They would reply to something and mostly just get hate. It was so bizarre to me that Amazon was making their employees sit on the clock and be sycophants for the people hiring them. Also, their strategy was so chaotic that this wasn’t even effective. And I thought, because it was so chaotic, I might be able to make an account and maybe fool a dozen people into thinking it was real and have a little fun with that.
How much time did you dedicate to the account? And what was your strategy for drafting the tweets?
It was actually pretty minimal. I know a lot of Twitter detectives kept going after the profile picture. It was AI-generated from This Person Does Not Exist. And the reason for that was just like, I was just lazy. If I thought this was going to fool a lot of people, I probably would have gotten a friend or a family member to pose for a picture.
I spent the whole weekend at my girlfriend’s parents’ house for Passover. I didn’t have a lot of free time because we were cooking, eating, and we were going shopping because I got some new cats. Most of this happened in little moments I could steal away on my phone. But the strategy was just that I wanted to see how far I could push one of these accounts without making it so absurd no one would believe me. I learned to keep it just realistic enough that I thought I could fool most people while keeping it strongly satirical.
How long were you planning to keep pushing this schtick?
Honestly, I had no real strategy. Once the account had been suspended, it was clear that I wasn’t going to have any more fun with this. Yesterday, I knew the end was near, and so I decided that today, I was going to post a fake PowerPoint presentation for Amazon that started as an anti-union speech and turned into this really strongly pro-union “seize the means of production” rant. But Twitter suspended me a bit before I could do that.
I was maybe going to put the Soviet national anthem under it at the end.
It was reported that Amazon asked Twitter to investigate the account. If Amazon is still paying attention, what would you tell the company now?
If their working conditions are as good as they claimed, they should welcome a union because it would be the pride of every union. If they’re so good that they don’t need a union, the union would come in and absolutely praise for the good work they’re doing.