I have been so inspired recently by the global solidarity shown to citizens of the United States in their current political unrest. This was evident with the organization of the Women’s March as well as the spontaneous protests which began in response to the immigration ban. I’m sure in the upcoming years we will see academic research examining how social networks and technological affordances mediated these protests and what role technology plays in activism. However, I think something new has arisen which is worth studying as well which is using technology as resistance instead of to organize resistance.
After Trump spontaneous imposition of his Immigration ban, protests began immediately. With injustice occurring on such a large scale and receiving so much media attention, people were paying attention to the actions of corporations we support. Many users were pleasantly surprised when Lyft committed to donating $1 million to American Civil Liberties Union over the next 4 years and New York’s taxi drivers responded with a one hour strike which refused pick-ups from JFK airport. However, Uber came under fire for exploiting this strike — and thus, profiting from the immigration ban — by turning off their surge pricing. As if this lack of solidarity was not enough, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was also criticized for supporting Trump and his policies by occupying a place on Trump’s financial advisory board.
In support of Lyft and condemnation of Uber, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending. This resulted in over 200, 000 users deleting their Uber accounts. Of course, this was possible for a number of reasons: one of which being Twitter’s infrastructure which encourages the use of hashtags and allows users to see which hashtags are popular. However, I wonder if this kind of protest would have been possible if it weren’t for the existence of alternative networks. If Lyft (or similar ridesharing apps) and taxis didn’t exist as alternative networks to Uber, would so many people have deleted Uber?
Ultimately, the #DeleteUber movement resulted in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s leaving Trump’s financial advisory board and a statement saying that Uber does not support Trump’s immigration policies. This can definitely be seen as a success by the activists involved. I think it is also an intriguing example of how the use — or lack thereof — of technology itself can be an act of resistance.
What do you guys think about deleting apps as activism? Do you think that it has resulted in a change of Uber’s ethics or that, ultimately, financial gain is the goal, no matter what the road there is? Would this boycott have been possible without alternative networks?