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The “peeing in bottles thing” is, in fact true, Amazon said Friday, as it issued a public apology for a tweet from its Amazon News account that suggested stories about its drivers urinating in bottles while working are bogus.

“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us,” the company had said in that original, March 24 tweet, which was a response to a tweet from congressional Rep. Mark Pocan. Pocan’s tweet had said, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”

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After being called out about its original tweet, Amazon recanted it late Friday, saying in a blog post that the tweet was “incorrect” and that it owed an apology to Pocan.

“We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes,” the company said in the post, “and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed.”

The apology could signal that the company is having second thoughts about a spate of unusually aggressive tweets it fired off last month. Amazon made headlines in March with snarky tweets directed at Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. After Vermont’s Sanders said he’d travel to Alabama in the final days of a union vote at an Amazon warehouse there, the company’s chief of consumer operations fired back on Twitter.

Read more: Amazon on edge: What’s behind its snark-tweeting of Sanders and Warren

“I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace,” Amazon exec Dave Clark tweeted on March 24. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”

The testy tweets appeared as lawmakers in the US and elsewhere are investigating Amazon and other Big Tech firms over what critics have charged are anticompetitive practices. The companies face potential regulation that could force them to break up their businesses or otherwise weaken their power. Amazon is also facing the prospect of a unionized workforce amid accusations that it mistreats its workers. And critics have said Amazon doesn’t pay enough taxes despite the fact that its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the richest people in the world.

Related: Amazon’s union vote: What the election at an Alabama warehouse could mean

In its apology Friday, Amazon said the bathroom-break problem affects drivers for other delivery services too, as well as drivers for ride-hailing companies. “Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it. We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions,” Amazon said in its post.

The company has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and others this year over AI-equipped cameras installed in Amazon vans to monitor drivers and confirm their identities. A company program for disciplining delivery drivers, which surfaced around the time Amazon’s plans for the cameras emerged, reportedly mentioned “public urination” among actionable offenses. Some drivers have said they worry the camera program will increase pressure on them to work even faster and lead to punishment for behaviors that are hard to avoid under intense time constraints. Amazon has said the cameras are meant solely as a safety measure, with tests showing significant decreases in things like accidents and distracted driving.

More info: Amazon drivers must consent to biometric monitoring or lose jobs, reports say

In its apology post Friday, Amazon also said the original tweet “wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” In 2018, an author went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in Britain and alleged that workers there urinated in bottles for fear that regular bathroom breaks might cost them their job. Amazon disputed that claim. In its Friday post, the company said fulfillment center workers can take bathroom breaks whenever they need to. 

“A typical Amazon fulfillment center has dozens of restrooms, and employees are able to step away from their work station at any time,” the company said in the post. “If any employee in a fulfillment center has a different experience, we encourage them to speak to their manager and we’ll work to fix it.”

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People hold up signs at a Stop Asian Hate rally in Chicago on March 27.

Vincent Johnson/Xinhua via Getty

Shirley Wang’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing as the hurtful tweets flooded in. Earlier that day, the 26-year-old Harvard student posted a thread of tweets about anti-Asian racism, prompting more than 100 replies.

“We must fight anti-Asian racism without fueling anti-Blackness (calls for increased policing are unacceptable),” Wang tweeted on Feb. 14.

While some Twitter users praised Wang for her remarks, online trolls hurled insults at her. “Apologize for corona first,” an anonymous Twitter account replied. Other users told Wang she had a “mental disorder,” was “dumb” or a “Bozo,” with some users adding a clown emoji in their replies. 

Wang reported dozens of tweets to Twitter for harassment — until she simply got tired of clicking the same button over and over. Hours later, she received an influx of emails from Twitter, informing her that most of the tweets she reported didn’t violate the company’s rules. 

“That was in its own weird way almost more upsetting than the tweets themselves,” she said.

Twitter’s response underscores the confusing and inconsistent attempts by social media to stamp out racist and hurtful content — efforts that have fallen short of curbing the spread of anti-Asian rhetoric online even as it emerged as a serious problem a year ago. Social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Google-owned YouTube, all have rules against hateful behavior, violent threats and harassment, but it’s often unclear where they draw the line. 

Twitter‘s hateful conduct policy says it doesn’t allow “targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category.” But some Twitter users who report tweets are finding out their interpretation of Twitter’s rules don’t match up with the views of the social network, which is also trying to promote free expression. CNET also showed Twitter several tweets that targeted Asians, and the company flip-flopped about whether the remarks violated its rules. 

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While social media has the ability to connect people with family and friends, it’s increasingly being used to sow division. Social networks have ways for people to mute or block users, but people still struggle to control the hate coming at them online. Advocacy groups such as the Anti-Defamation League say these tech companies need to do more. 

“Even as technology companies insist that they are taking unprecedented steps to moderate hateful content on their social media platforms, the user experience hasn’t changed all that much,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement in March. “Americans of many different backgrounds continue to experience online hate and harassment at levels that are totally unacceptable.” 

Fueling an outcry against anti-Asian hate

In March 2020, CNET found dozens of hateful comments and posts about Asians across social media, including those that used ethnic slurs and perpetuated stereotypes. Since then, this problem appears to have gotten worse as more reports about anti-Asian violence surface. 


A mural in Atlanta, Georgia was painted by the Bad Asian and Civic Walls groups is a remembrance of the eight lives lost at the three spa shootings in the state. 

Megan Varner/Getty Images

The outcry over anti-Asian bias reached another boiling point after the Georgia spa shootings in March, which killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. While federal investigators say they haven’t found evidence to classify the shootings as a hate crime, the tragedy has sparked more fears about violence against Asians, who have been blamed for the outbreak of the coronavirus. Last week, the White House announced new actions to tackle anti-Asian violence, bias and xenophobia that have existed long before the coronavirus. 

Social networks haven’t released data about how much anti-Asian content they’ve suppressed or removed since the coronavirus outbreak, which first appeared in China in December 2019 and has since infected more than 132 million people around the globe. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian hate during the pandemic, received nearly 3,800 reports of harassment, physical assault and acts of discrimination against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February 2021. About 6.8% of those complaints were for online harassment. 

Online hate and harassment aren’t unique to Asians. For many years, social media users who identify as Black, Jewish, transgender or as part of other marginalized groups have also complained that Facebook and Twitter aren’t doing enough to stamp out hate speech, despite having rules against that type of behavior. But the coronavirus pandemic has meant that Asian Americans are dealing with racist comments more often than they have in the past.

The ADL released a survey last month that showed “severe” harassment such as “stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing or sustained harassment” has been on the rise for Asian Americans. About 17% of Asian Americans said in January they experienced severe online harassment compared with 11% during the same period last year, the largest uptick compared with other groups. About half said they were harassed because of their race.

Perpetuating Asian stereotypes and hate online

The use of anti-Asian rhetoric has also been infused into political speech, making it trickier for social networks to moderate this type of content. Conservatives have accused sites such as Facebook and Twitter of censoring their speech, allegations the companies repeatedly deny.


Twitter has been grappling with anti-Asian hate speech.

Image by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Lawmakers and advocacy groups have also slammed former President Donald Trump, who has referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu,” a term that deflects from the global nature of the pandemic and stokes discrimination against Asians.

Trump has denied he was being racist, noting the virus was first discovered in China, but Asian Americans, Democrats and civil rights activists have criticized the use of the term. The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said people should avoid referring to any disease using the name of a location. A study from the University of San Francisco found that Twitter users who use #chinesevirus were more likely to “pair it with overtly racist hashtags.” Half of the more than 775,000 hashtags with #chinesevirus included anti-Asian bias.

More than a year after the pandemic started, terms such as “Chinese virus” are still being used on social media. In March, CNET asked Twitter about two tweets targeting Chinese people. One user with the pseudonym “Thefox” said they preferred to use terms like “Chinese sneeze” and “Wuhan flu.” Another Twitter user in February called Chinese people “nasty,” noting they have “eaten wild animals.”

A Twitter spokeswoman said at the time the tweets didn’t violate the site’s rules. The spokeswoman then said after further review the company determined the tweets did go against its rules against hateful conduct and they’re no longer available, highlighting the confusion around content moderation. 

CNET also showed Twitter an anonymous account that tweeted out pornographic images of Asian women and paired the photos with a hashtag that included a racial slur and the word “slut.” One image the user tweeted showed an Asian woman sleeping along with phrases such as “dream of white conquest” and “your race has failed.” Twitter permanently suspended the account after CNET pointed it out. The user had been barred for multiple violations of Twitter’s hateful conduct policy but was trying to evade the ban, violating another one of Twitter’s policies.

Facebook and YouTube sometimes allow users to use the racially insensitive term “Kung Flu.” CNET showed Facebook several posts that used the term, but the social network said they didn’t violate its rules. One image on Facebook’s Instagram site showed two people engaging in martial arts that said “everyone was Kung Flu fighting.” Facebook said it would continue to monitor trends and talk to organizations to make sure they’re drawing the lines of hate speech at the right place. The company said it removes that term in ads when they’re being used to sell products.

On YouTube, comics artist Ethan Van Sciver posted a video on his account in March in which he jokes about killing Chinese people. “Give me a tommy gun and line ’em up against the wall,” he says in the video, which has now been removed from YouTube. A spokesperson for YouTube said the video was removed for violating its hate speech policy and had fewer than 60,000 views after it was removed in less than 24 hours. 

Van Sciver said his remarks about Chinese people were “facetious sarcasm” and that the video was “taken out of context,” noting that “genuine anti-Asian rhetoric is deplorable.””I do not want to hurt Asian people or any people,” he said in an email. While YouTube pulled the video, clips of it still exist on Twitter, some posted by people who’ve denounced Van Sciver’s comments.

Blocking anti-Asian hate terms

TikTok, a short-form video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has taken a stronger stance when it comes to curbing the spread of racially insensitive comments targeting Asians. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, TikTok has blocked terms such as “Kung Flu” from its search results.


TikTok blocks search results for terms that use anti-Asian rhetoric. 


“No results found. This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines. Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok’s top priority,” a notice on the app states.

In a congressional hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month, Rep. Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, pointed out that Twitter and Facebook still allow hashtags that are harmful to the Asian community. 

Dorsey and Zuckerberg said they have policies against hateful behavior but noted the hashtags also contained counter speech that denounces the use of the terms, making enforcement of their hate speech rules more difficult. “With social media, it travels all around the world and hurts a lot of people,” Matsui told the executives. “We really have to look at how we define hate speech.” 

Manny Chong, a 26-year-old student in Massachusetts who organizes #stopasianhate rallies, has used TikTok to speak out against using racism. Chong said some of his videos have been accidentally flagged for hate speech. He has also received racist comments on the short-form video app, including “ok orientals,””Ching Chong” and “Everybody was Kung Flu fighting,” comments viewed by CNET showed.

The comments, he noted, showcase the problem he’s speaking out against so he doesn’t bother to delete or report most of them. Chong does draw the line when someone is sharing spam or trying to attack other TikTok users in the comments. In March, TikTok said it was releasing new tools that gave users more control over their comments, including the ability to hide recent comments unless they approve them.

“It’s just not worth my mental energy,” Chong said in regards to flagging comments for removal. “I just don’t have the space for negativity.” 

Since dealing with harassment on Twitter, Wang said she’s learned more about muting notifications on the social network, which means she won’t get pinged every time someone replies to a viral tweet. Twitter also allows users to hide replies. 

Initially, Wang felt nervous about tweeting again. Then she realized that would just let the online trolls win.

“Later that day, I made another post,” she said. “I’m just reaffirming my stance that we have to fight anti-Asian racism, [support] Black Lives Matter, and we have to do both in solidarity.”

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YouTube is trying something new with dislikes. 

James Martin/CNET

YouTube on Tuesday said it’s testing new designs that hide the number of dislikes on a video from public view. People in the test group will start seeing the new designs in the coming weeks, the company said.

“In response to creator feedback around well-being and targeted dislike campaigns, we’re testing a few new designs that don’t show the public dislike count,” YouTube said in a tweet. “If you’re part of this small experiment, you might spot one of these designs in the coming weeks (example below!).”

👍👎 In response to creator feedback around well-being and targeted dislike campaigns, we’re testing a few new designs that don’t show the public dislike count. If you’re part of this small experiment, you might spot one of these designs in the coming weeks (example below!).

— YouTube (@YouTube) March 30, 2021

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Creators will still be able to see how many likes and dislikes their content receives in YouTube Studio. Viewers who are part of the test will also still be able to like or dislike videos “to share feedback with creators and help tune the recommendations you see on YouTube,” the company tweeted

Already, people on Twitter have responded to the company’s post to criticize the move. 

“What about content that is objectively bad and harmful to people? Like scams etc?” one tweet reads

“You are actually promoting bad content by hiding dislikes,” another person tweeted. “That’s what partially keeps people accountable and let’s [sic] other viewers know if something is worth watching.”

Another tweet reads: “the problem with websites that don’t have dislike buttons is it’s harder for people to get an idea of what’s good and what’s bad. like if twitter had a dislike button, you guys could see how much everybody hates this.”

A handful of social media companies have recently made changes which they say are part of an effort to tackle harassment. In 2019, Facebook and Instagram began experimenting with hiding likes among some users. Instagram also nixed its Following tab, which showed which posts and accounts people were engaging with. Still, some experts have been skeptical of Big Tech’s motivations, saying those moves could be a matter of risk mitigation in the face of intense scrutiny. Social media companies have long been criticized for being addictiveharboring harmful content and fostering anxiety and depression, particularly among younger audiences.

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Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California

Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, will re-open in a limited capacity on May 10.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Facebook on Friday confirmed plans to open its Menlo Park headquarters at 10% capacity on May 10 if coronavirus case numbers continue to fall, as previously reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The social network’s Fremont offices will follow May 17, its Sunnyvale location May 24 and its downtown San Francisco towers June 7.

All employees can work from home until July 2. After that, they can continue to do so until one month after their office reopening reaches 50% capacity. Facebook estimates that it’ll be able to reopen its largest sites at that level after Sept. 7.

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“The health and safety of our employees and neighbors in the community is our top priority and we’re taking a measured approach to reopening offices,” Facebook spokesperson Chloe Meyere said in statement emailed to CNET. “As we return to the office, we have a number of safety protocols in place including physical distancing and masks required at all times when in an office, and where possible, weekly testing requirements for anyone working on site.”

Earlier this week, Microsoft said it will start bringing employees back to its Redmond, Washington, headquarters from March 29. Its workers in the area will be able choose between returning to office full time, continuing to work remotely or implementing a hybrid model.

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