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Making Sense of Uber Reporter Threats

Nov 24, 2014

Credit wbur.org

Uber -- the ride sharing app company -- is getting all kinds of attention.

And not just because of its innovative way to get you around town with unlicensed people you don't know.

It was recently revealed that an Uber executive was thinking about hiring investigators to dig up dirt on reporters who write negative articles about the company.

How can a high-tech driven company be so ham-handed when it comes to dealing with the media?

"Well, they're ham-handed when it comes to dealing with the media and when it comes to issues of women, which is what Uber was ultimately responding to here," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "Uber executive Emil Michael was at this dinner and he said, you know we should spend a million dollars to do a research operation on journalists who write bad things about us. And he was specifically speaking about Sarah Lacey at pandodaily, which is a tech website. She had written some very critical things about Uber's insensitivity to the concerns of women's safety. Ben Smith of Buzzfeed was at that dinner and he wrote a piece about it and the whole journalism tech world exploded." 

Why is Uber so sensitive?

"They are sensitive because they face challenges wherever they go," McBride explained. "They, essentially, allow people to hook up with unlicensed drivers to get around a city and if a profession is unlicensed, it stands to reason that they may not follow all the safety regulations. So they're fighting this battle constantly."

And when it comes to the charges of sexism in the company, McBride said there is clear evidence of a problem for Uber.

"They actually had an ad in France encouraging female Uber drivers to dress very sexy," said McBride. "So it's a strategy that the company went so far as to produce an advertisement in Europe. That suggests a bit of tone deafness around women's issues."

McBride said that is no surprise for a Silicon Valley company.

"There are not very many women who can even get into Silicon Valley companies, let alone into the leadership structures of these companies," McBride said. "And, as a result, they tend to take women's issues lightly."

And that may be taking a toll on companies like Uber.

"Women all over the world are deleting the Uber app from their phone and installing Uber's competitor, Lyft, simply because they don't like the condescending, dismissive attitude of the company," she said.