The Success of #DeleteUber

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?

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4 Comments

  1. I think it’s cool that our means of protest have shifted to the digital along with many other facets in our lives. Based on the fact that Travis Kalanick removed himself from the advisory board shows that it is an effective means of protest, as the financial impact seems to have conveyed a message to the CEO that he was willing to listen to.

    However, the financial side of this is where things get sticky. Lyft’s commitment to $1m over 4 years is a small financial loss for a company who is about to gain Uber’s approximately 200 000 deleted users. Unfortunately, Lyft’s charitable action is another thinly veiled act that profits off the immigration ban.

    You’re right to say that deleting Uber wouldn’t have been possible without the alternate networks that surround the app, but choosing Lyft over Uber doesn’t exactly equal an ethical choice.. but hey, there’s no such thing as ethical capitalism.

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  2. I too think that it is nice to see the ways in which we are repurposing technology for activist means! In relation to Nicole’s comment, she is correct in saying that leaving deleting Uber wouldn’t have been possible without the alternate networks (Lyft, City Cab). However, I find it useful to reflect upon the reading by Jodi Dean, and her idea of leaving the network all together. As was mentioned, users who turned to Lyft can not be said to be making a more ethical commuter choice, as all subsidiary cab services will profit off of Uber’s loss. It is here that an individual would have to leave the network in entirety to make a decision they could feel “good” about.

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  3. I have to disagree with Jodi Dean as a useful source for practical application. The network that encompasses our overall mobility is extensive, and nearly impossible to completely remove ourselves from. Uber/Lyft/City Cab play an important role in the daily actions of many individual who operate within these networks (drivers and customers alike). It is unlikely, and unfair to suggest that “good” moral action can only come from inconveniencing yourself and others.

    Just like other forms of online activism, boycotting plays an important but limited role. Unfortunately the limitations often become our main concern. We are so quick to judge those we deem “preforming the bare minimum”, that we do nothing ourself. At the end of the day why is it that we are unable to ever focus on the strength of our solidarity? We see only extreme forms of action as true action, and in our overwhelming need to criticizes public movement, we become part of the problem.

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