Friday, April 02, 2021

Corporations That Will Enforce Your "Immunity Privileges" Clearly Hate You Piss-Ants...,

theatlantic  |  Amazon’s straight-up aggression broke so much from these two common patterns that one Amazon engineer even submitted a support ticket, concerned that the Amazon News Twitter account had been hacked. It’s shocking to see a company act like an online troll instead.

It shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s long past time that citizens stop construing online brands, and the companies their messages represent, as clever human interlocutors, be they catty or chatty. Which brings me back to my theory: In a backwards way, and certainly unintentionally, Amazon’s weird behavior is liberating us from the affliction of building affable relationships with corporations. It’s a reminder that although companies have basically become people in our lives, those people might very well be assholes.

The law has preserved their right to be so for some time. Over the past century, companies have been transformed into private individuals, deserving protection from the state. The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed corporations to spend unlimited funds on elections. The Court’s opinion justified the decision on the grounds that limiting political spending violates the First Amendment right to free speech. Citizens United is the most recent victory for corporate personhood in the United States, but that history goes back much further. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed all citizens equal protection under the law, became a mechanism for corporations to argue for their rights as individuals. (Corporations had previously been treated as institutions chartered by a state for the public good.)

It’s a convenient accident that the Citizens United decision corresponded with the arrival of the consumer internet. By 2010, everyone was online, and in public too, on social-media services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Previously, companies could speak only through formal messages on billboards; by mail, radio, or television; or via media coverage of their actions. The web had shifted that control a bit, but websites were still mostly marketing and service portals. Social media and smartphones changed everything. They made corporate speech functionally identical to human speech. Case law might have given companies legal personhood, but the internet made corporations feel like people.

It also allowed companies to behave like people. As their social-media posts were woven into people’s feeds between actual humans’ jokes, gripes, and celebrations, brands started talking with customers directly. They offered support right inside people’s favorite apps. They did favors, issued giveaways, and even raised money for the downtrodden. Brands became #brands.

In 2018, I wrote about my personal experiences with this new kind of brand behavior for The Atlantic, when Comcast sent me 10 pizzas after I dared them to on Twitter. By then, brands had developed distinctive, humanlike personalities online: Wendy’s cattiness countered Arby’s dorkiness, for example. Steak-umm had become a kind of social-media hero, using the persona of a Rust Belt underdog to opine on social and political topics of all stripes.

Back then, I warned against growing too comfortable with these newly seductive corporate relationships. The brands were not real human friends, but neither were they faceless corporations anymore. That ennui has deepened, and “Ugh, #brands” has become a more common sentiment among people who might previously have found them charming. Now Amazon’s social-media mutiny expresses the same disgust, but in a despicable corporate voice.