Does #BoycottUber really work?

And more importantly, do people actually stick to it? We asked around.

Type #BoycottUber into Facebook or Twitter. Go on. Be prepared, it’s a strange place.

You'll find conservatives who hate Uber because they think Uber doesn’t support them, and liberals who hate them because they think Uber supports conservatives.

You'll see tweets from people who are angry about the way it pays its taxes, about the way it treats its employees, angry about a failure in customer service, about a surge price at the wrong time, about the music a driver played in their cab.

#BoycottUber started as a movement against a single thing – a belief in the company’s support of President Trump and has morphed into a way anyone, anywhere can express their dissatisfaction with the company.

But do these kinds of social media protests really work, especially in the face of a powerful multinational company? And does anyone actually stick to them?


The boycott

“Social media can amplify a boycott beyond its natural noise level,” says Tim, who works for an organization called Ethical Consumer (who, surprise, surprise, try to help people make more ethical consumer choices).

“But the point of boycotts isn’t always just to hurt the company’s bottom line [their profits]. It’s also about raising awareness.”

By joining in on a social media hashtag, you get to shout about your dissatisfaction, without anyone ever really checking whether or not you did actually stop using the service.

So how many of the hashtag users actually did #BoycottUber? And how long did their boycotts last? We asked around.

For Kerry, the decision to delete the app initially came because she was annoyed with their service, rather than any concern about the way the company did business. “I just thought ‘you know what, it’s my money. I’ll spend it where I want to spend it.’”

But as more and more stories about the company’s safety record in London came to light, culminating in last month’s decision by TfL not to reissue Uber with another license, her opinion against Uber hardened.

“That was it for me. I was happy with the decision, it showed that technology companies aren’t above the law just because they’ve got loads of money, nothing is above people’s safety.”


Kerry says she hasn’t used Uber since. “I walk more, I get black cabs, I get the train more. There are other apps you can use, Uber doesn’t have the monopoly over the technology anymore,” she says.

Lizzie, who stopped using Uber when she lived in the US, said her ‘boycott’ had its limits when she returned to Europe and found there weren’t as many easy alternatives.

“I’ve used it a couple of times since then in cases of emergencies. Like say for example I’m in a country I don’t know and I don’t have any other taxi information and it’s a last resort. I choose not to use it like 99.9% of the time.


“If I was on a night out in London and I didn’t want to go get a tube on my own then Uber would be the easiest and technically the safest option.”

According to YouGov, convenience plays a big role in how long a boycotter lasts. One in five UK consumers has boycotted a brand, YouGov says, but 26 per cent of those people eventually go back to using those brands (though only 1 per cent said they’d use it as much as before).

For nearly 30 per cent of the people who do go back, their boycott ended not because the brand had changed its ways, but because it just became too not to use it.

The petition

In fact, when TfL announced its decision not to renew Uber’s license, Uber itself took to the internet to remind its 3 million London users that they were about to lose their favourite way of getting around.

In the same way its critics mobilized people around a hashtag, it mobilized people around a petition, arguing for the license to be reinstated, among its reasons was the argument that the decision will “deprive millions of Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport”.

Uber Petition

This is Uber’s favourite trick, according to Tim –they’ve used it around the world to mobilize public support and put pressure on local authorities.

“When you’re a multimillion dollar organisation, you can relatively easily amass a decent amount of support.

“They were sending out messages via the app to sign the petition. They were paying for ads on Google.

“If the same amount of resource was being spent on telling people of the problems with Uber, the outcome of the petition might have been different.”

The future of Uber (the f-uber)

“If Uber were to disappear tomorrow, would those 700,000 people be on the streets demonstrating?” Tim says, “Would they all be writing to their MPs demanding that Uber be returned? Probably not, they’d probably just ring their local taxi company.”

In London, Uber’s fans (and those 700,000 petition signers) will be relieved to know that TfL is entering into talks to work out how to get it to clean up its act, so cheap cabs can stay on the road.

But, says Tim, although #boycotts come and go, they do have a lasting effect. “Companies struggle to shake off the negative PR. There’s a legacy.”

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