Links to President Donald Trump are shaping up to be a liability for Silicon Valley’s golden boys. Case in point: Uber.
The hashtag #DeleteUber has been spreading on social media amid protests against Trump’s Muslim travel ban. The ride hailing service was accused of “strike breaking” in New York Saturday, while others condemned remarks made by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick indicating he would work with the president.
In a statement, Kalanick said the “ban will impact many innocent people.” He added that the company would compensate drivers stranded outside the country for the next three months.
Hundreds travelled to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport Saturday to demonstrate against Trump’s executive order, which prohibits citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days.
In response to the ban, the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for an hour work stoppage at the airport in protest. After Uber tweeted that surge pricing had been turned off at the airport, the company was quickly condemned by some as a “strike breaker.”
Twitter and Facebook users began to share screenshots of themselves deleting their Uber accounts, including the message they were sending to the company.
“Uber has actively chosen to support racism, xenophobia, and bigotry,” @katebergie wrote.
“Uber CEOs are collaborators with Trump and therefore support fascism,” @flwrwrk wrote.
In response to the criticism, Uber’s New York account tweeted late Saturday that its “last tweet not meant to break strike.”
“We had no intention of ‘breaking up a strike,'” an Uber spokesperson told Mashable. “Rather we wanted to let people know that Uber was an option to get to/from JFK at the time of the protest, at normal prices.”
Uber’s CEO has weathered criticism for being a member of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, alongside Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, and Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.
In his statement, Kalanick defended his decision to join the forum. “We’ve taken the view that in order to serve cities you need to give their citizens a voice, a seat at the table,” he wrote.
“We partner around the world optimistically in the belief that by speaking up and engaging we can make a difference. Our experience is that not doing so shortchanges cities and the people who live in them.”
He said he’d raise the Muslim travel ban with the president at a meeting of the business advisory group on Friday.
Uber CTO Thuan Pham is one Uber executive who has spoken out against the president in an internal email, according to Business Insider, calling the president a “deplorable person.”
“How can we sleep peaceful at night for the next 4 years knowing that the biggest societal problems rests on his lack of intellectual curiosity, judgment and temperament? It is indeed terrifying!” Pham wrote in the leaked email.
Despite Uber’s official response, it does not appear the #DeleteUber campaign is slowing down.
While the American technology industry’s ethos has been mostly one of open borders and free market principles, Trump’s populist agenda will test the strength of those values.
The coming months will show what any openness to Trump’s agenda, the Muslim travel ban notwithstanding, means for a company’s public image and bottom line. After all, perception of Uber matters not just in the U.S., but in Muslim countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, and everywhere it operates.
UPDATE: Jan. 29, 2017, 6:51 p.m. AEDT Uber spokesperson comments added.