On Jan. 28, Uber decided to disable surge pricing around New York’s John F. Kennedy airport in response to widespread airport protests and a taxi driver strike inspired by President Donald Trump’s travel ban. This was a fairly common practice for the company, which routinely lowers prices around emergency situations to avoid being seen as profiting from disaster. On top of this, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s involvement on Trump’s economic advisory column in itself spurred calls to delete the app. To many, Kalanick’s decision to align himself with Trump sent the message that his company condoned the presidential administration’s penchant for bigotry.
In response, the #DeleteUber hashtag almost immediately began to surge through Facebook and Twitter, and by the end of the week, a reported 200,000 Uber users deleted their accounts on the ride sharing service in response to the controversy. Protesters also voiced their disapproval for Kalanick’s participation in a Trump economic advisory council, and on Thursday, Kalanick responded by publicly resigning from the council.
Surely, at least a few of those deleted accounts were USC students who rely on the school’s partnership with the company, established in 2015, for free late night transportation. Thumbs may have hovered over the “USC Uber” option within the app as students weighed whether this company was worth supporting, and as the hatred for Uber grew over the course of the week, the subject of severing ties with the company must have come up in administrative meetings.
Uber desperately asserted its position against the travel ban for the rest of the week, saying that it was “unjust, wrong, and against everything we stand for as a company” in an email to deleters. But the damage was done, and this incident only added to the growing list of shady business practices from the company, which also include downplaying sexual assault claims, accepting money from foreign governments and spying on customers.
The #DeleteUber movement was an example of consumer literacy on a nationwide scale, and though it may have gone too far, it highlighted the lengths that people are willing to go when a company does something that does not mesh with their personal ideologies. But after the massive response to this small action by a company that already had a less-than-stellar reputation, there seems to be some gaps in consumer logic.
For example, if USC was pressured to stop the USC Uber program, should they also be pressured to stop offering discounted Disneyland tickets or serving Pepsi products, after both company’s CEOs participated in the same advisory committee that Kalanick resigned from? Should the school switch to Lyft, another ride sharing service, even though it received a $100 million investment from noted Trump supporter and advisor Carl Icahn in 2015? Examining the political ties of favorite companies feels almost futile in the era of Trump, who seems to have ties to every major corporation in the United States, but that doesn’t negate the importance of consumer literacy.
Even though the most visible reaction to Uber’s decision was the #deleteuber hashtag, the one that may have more lasting impact was the extended boycotts by groups like “Grab Your Wallet,” which emphasize the importance of showing political views by supporting companies that align with personal beliefs, as difficult as that may be. The #DeleteUber movement showed us that the widespread actions of individuals can and will change the policies of even the most corrupt companies, and though the actions may have been misplaced, they were a powerful example of consumer power.
Remember the #deleteuber movement, and the power that you wield as a customer and consumer. The current political climate makes it easy to feel helpless, but remember that small actions like deleting an account or voicing an opinion matter deeply in the long run. Do not fall into social media mob mentality, and don’t expect companies to be perfect — they are in pursuit of money, after all. But do not forget the power of the wallet and informed choices.