To say President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning visa entry from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspending the refugee program has received pushback is an understatement.
It immediately inspired protests at airports and in cities across the nation. It ignited a legal fight: judges blocked part of Trump’s order Saturday, the state of Washington and the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced two separate lawsuits against the ban Monday, and acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Justice Department Staff to not defend the ban in court — and then was promptly fired. And it helped the American Civil Liberties Union raise a record more than $24 million online over the weekend.
It also presented many companies their first real test in the Age of Trump — perhaps none more pressured than Silicon Valley darling Uber.
Uber was the target of the viral #DeleteUber campaign over the weekend after it tweeted it would suspend surge pricing at New York’s JFK airport, a move many took to be an attack on the New York taxi driver union’s hour-long strike protesting the ban. Uber has since said that it did not intend to break up the strike, and CEO Travis Kalanick spoke out against the executive order on Facebook and promised immigration assistance to affected employees. Yet these efforts seemed to do little to prevent possibly hundreds of people from deleting their accounts.
It’s remarkable that social media activism was able to cause such an immediate result. It sends an important warning to other companies that they now face a complex balancing act in how they respond to edicts from the White House. On the one hand, they risk a presidential tweet affecting their stock at any moment; on the other, a grassroots boycott.
And it’s possible that backlash to Uber over this one incident could be part of a greater animosity towards the company. Not only is Kalanick a member of Trump’s economic advisory group, but the company has also faced critique in the past for policies including how it treats its drivers and how it manages its surge pricing.
But targeting Uber in this instance was likely unfair. Instead of pointing to how the company poorly responded to an anti-Trump protest, perhaps the public should focus on how the company responds to Trump’s actions. Much of that has yet to be seen, though Uber has promised $3 million will go into a legal fund to help drivers affected by the ban.
Moreover, the #DeleteUber outrage distracts from the real issue: that the new U.S. president just shocked the world with an unprecedented, potentially unconstitutional order, causing upheaval and chaos in government offices, airports and homes around the country.
Much of Silicon Valley was quick to react to that sentiment and denounce Trump’s order. For example, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called the ban “upsetting,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a statement that it was “so un-American it pains us all,” and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the U.S. should “keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help. That’s who we are.”
Many tech companies are also taking action. Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft are supporting Washington’s lawsuit. Github, a software development company, organized a meeting of tech companies, including Google, Airbnb and Netflix, Tuesday to discuss filing an amicus brief in support of one of the lawsuits. And Lyft, one of Uber’s competitors, announced Sunday it would donate $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years.
Clearly, Uber failed to deliver its message. But next time, instead of getting mired in one-off corporate snafus, those who oppose Trump’s policies may find it more beneficial to channel their energy toward the real culprit and into action that promotes their goals.