Amazon got entangled in a Twitter row with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren over its labor practices and tax affairs, in an unusually aggressive public relations maneuver amid growing hostility in Washington.
The war of words began Thursday when the Massachusetts senator, a leading consumer protection advocate in Congress, criticized the company for exploiting tax loopholes. Amazon had said it was following laws drafted by Congress.
“I didn’t write down the loopholes you exploit, @amazon – your armies of lawyers and lobbyists did,” she wrote. “But you bet I’ll fight to make you pay your fair share.” And fight your anti-unionism. And fight to smash Big Tech so you’re not powerful enough to heckle Senators with arrogant tweets. “
The company’s @AmazonNews account on Friday replied, calling his tweets “extraordinary and revealing”. He added, “One of America’s most powerful politicians just said she was going to dismantle an American company so that they could no longer criticize her.
Amazon is one of many tech companies under pressure in Washington. Earlier this week, the CEOs of Google, Facebook and Twitter were interrogates by members of the House of Representatives on disinformation on their platforms.
Amazon is particularly at risk of antitrust action, Federal Trade Commission regulators have reportedly opened a formal investigation into its trading practices. Earlier this week, Joe Biden, US President, appointed Lina Khan, the scholar who rose to prominence accusing Amazon of monopolistic behavior, for serving as FTC commissioner.
Last year Khan, who contributed to Warren’s thinking about the tech industry, helped write a congressional report accusing the company of using data from third-party vendors to improve and sell its own products.
Khan is not Warren’s only ally in a senior position in the federal government. Biden also appointed Bharat Ramamurti, one of his former political assistants, as deputy director of the National Economic Council; Julie Siegel, another former member of the senator’s staff, has been appointed deputy chief of staff to the US Treasury; and Rohit Chopra was appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he worked when Warren was its director.
Amazon has in its corner Jay carney, a former White House press secretary under Barack Obama who currently heads Amazon’s public relations and political efforts. Carney joined Amazon as head of global affairs in 2015 and became a member of CEO Jeff Bezos’ inner circle of closest advisers, known as S-Team.
Warren’s Twitter row followed an argument earlier in the week between Amazon chief executive Dave Clark and Bernie Sanders, after the Vermont senator announced he would travel to Bessemer, Alabama on Friday to support the workers trying to form Amazon’s first union in the United States.
“I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate their drive to create a progressive workplace” wrote Clark. “I often say that we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite fair because we actually provide a progressive workplace.”
Asked about the Friday afternoon tweets, Sanders would have replied: “It tells me that they are nervous”.
Clark’s comments follow Bezos’ decision to decline an invitation to appear at a congressional hearing earlier this month, chaired by Sanders, to discuss income inequality.