When Walmart and Amazon workers go viral

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There’s a TikTok that’s been with me since I saw it in early fall. It is a Walmart employee named Shana who uses the shop microphone to announce all the racist and sexist behavior that she has observed during her working hours and calls her employees by name. It ended with, “I fucking stopped.”

Shana later updated the nearly 35 million people who saw her video, saying that her speech was actually aired throughout the Lubbock, Texas store (there is video evidence) and that she met tons of people as she left the store was applause. A few people told her they would never shop at Walmart again.

It’s the only thing I could think of when reporter Michael Waters broke the news this week that the company is now trying to turn 500 of its employees into social media influencers promoting Walmart’s unmatched size. The program is called Spotlight and is only open to salaried employees, not hourly workers, which means the vast majority of the 2.2 million workers are ineligible. Popular contributions are rewarded with cash bonuses.

Retail workers from mega-chains like Sephora, Chipotle, and Starbucks have gone viral since the app’s existence on TikTok, and for the most part, companies have tried to shut it down. A Panera employee was fired for her video “revealing” how mac and cheese were made. A Chik-Fil-A staff member was released on menu hacks for her viral video. Even if the content is undeniably harmless – or positive! – Big brands have resisted the idea that their image is out of their control. Just ask the Sherwin Williams retail worker who was reportedly fired for simply sharing videos about mixing paint.

The only salvation for Walmart’s rather ethically dubious influencer program is that it doesn’t really seem to work: the two Walmart influencers Waters interviewed in its story have roughly 1,500 and 300 Instagram followers, respectively. Other brands that have tried to star their workers didn’t really succeed until they chose TikToker, which had already built a huge fan base, such as the Dunkin ‘Donuts Crew Ambassadors program . (Look at Amazon’s ridiculous Twitter army of warehouse workers who flooded the website with pro-Amazon sentiments in 2019.)

But as the golden rule of authenticity on social media suggests, the videos that travel the farthest are the ones that portray employees’ actual experiences. One of the first videos I saw when I opened the app this week showed a woman working silently and quickly in what appeared to be an Amazon fulfillment center.

Her captions asked viewers to shop on site instead, arguing that the company’s coronavirus security measures were “a joke”, that productivity monitoring was “inhuman” and that they were spying on and taking revenge on workers who try to hide themselves to merge trade union organizations. In other videos, she said she got two yeast infections in two months from fear of going to the bathroom and lowering her productivity, and that the company had minimized the increasing injuries to warehouse workers, especially during the main holiday season . “Please support companies that care about the health and well-being of their employees,” she wrote.

It’s clear why brands like Walmart are trying to take more responsibility for employees’ social media content: they want to offset the impact of such videos that centralize the experiences of the lowest-ranking employees rather than enhancing a company’s image .

The problem, of course, is that this is sponsored content and nobody wants to see that. Hearing from Target employees tells you about the brand’s alleged practice of letting people steal from them until the total amount of goods stolen equals one grand theft. This is a lot more interesting than having a Walmart employee showing you their favorite funko pop dolls. And as long as TikTok is a platform driven by algorithmic popularity, the messy videos – those where employees reveal secrets, stop on camera, or expose union oppression – will be the ones we’re most likely to see.

If Walmart manages to get a large enough stake in TikTok, it can all be controversial, and the platform could be reduced to an infinite scroll of creepy cheering greeters forced to read from a company’s PR-approved script. Until then, retailers of the world: Keep your cameras on.

TikTok on the news

  • Oh look, another TikTok inspired Facebook app!
  • The crowdsourced musical Ratatouille will be inducted into the IRL on January 1st, when production company Seaview hosts the digital event in aid of the Actors Fund. It is unclear how the dozen of artists who contributed music, choreography, graphic design, costumes, and even puppet shows to the musical existing on TikTok will be credited or compensated.
  • Atlanta is now home to two all black TikTok creator mansions and is becoming America’s new influencer capital.
  • TikTok stars are joining venture capital firms and investing in startups because they are part of the generation that grew up with Shark Tank.
  • This is a really honest account of how standup comics thrive on TikTok, even knowing their content is a little bit hacky – because it works!
  • Welcome to SelenaTok, the place to find out about Selena’s life and music before watching the new Netflix series.
  • Don’t file your teeth to make them look more even or do nothing else on this list of TikTok’s Worst Health Trends of the Year.

One last thing

Hardly anyone in college turns on their cameras during Zoom lectures, but these students surprised their professor by showing their faces at once. Spoiler: The professor cried and so did I.

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