When the work pays off, Turkopticon and the workers celebrate a win

Working in activism is a labor of love. You have to care about what you are doing. The hours are long, the funding can be scarce, and progress can come at a painful pace. You get burned out and must dig deep to keep going at times. Passion can make due process a frustrating path. It’s not a venture for the weak of heart. But if you stay. If you can sludge through the rough, the wins my friends, the wins will make your soul sing.

We won a battle. The war is still waging on, but we won a battle. On February 19th, Turkopticon started getting an unusually high number of suspended account reports. Conversations started; we were all monitoring every platform workers communicate on, and there was an air of tension as we tried to figure out our next steps. Normal work went on in the background as we collected stories and data.

On the 20th we emailed workers, letting them know this was an unusual instance, and we were trying to communicate with Amazon. We suspended our normal reporting structure and asked workers to fill out our suspension form immediately, in lue of our normal process of waiting after they had contacted Amazon. We all knew this was not normal, something was going on. We made statements on social media. More account suspensions were reported to us. We passed them on to Amazon, letting them know this was unusual, and asking for answers. We received a non-answer stating they’d “look into it”.

Two days later, our allies at the DAIR institute were brought up to speed and instantly became concerned over workers who may be financially impacted. For those unaware, when Amazon suspends your Mturk account, you are locked out. You do not get paid for work completed or pending, they keep it all. DAIR organized a fundraiser for mutual aid. Workers who were left with bills to pay, earnings potentially forever lost and life that cost money had a force behind them looking to throw out a liferaft. We sent communication to all that had contacted us letting them know we had help for them. This brought up the question, the concern, what about those that we have not heard from? What about the worker who does not realize there is a community and an organization fighting for them? We knew we needed to figure out where the rest of our lost workers were.

In an impromptu meeting, one of our organizers suggested inviting all suspended workers to a Zoom meeting. We could give them more “behind the scenes” information, and talk amongst ourselves to build solidarity and try to find a common ground. We’d asked Amazon if certain aspects could be the common denominator, but in typical Amazon fashion, we were given more non-answers. We had let them know we were all meeting and asked if they had anything we could share with the affected workers, but they were unable to provide anything. The meeting was lively. We were all upset and confused, and honestly, we all felt betrayed. No worker who had been suspended had suspicious actions or behavior, this seemed so uncollected. Workers affected were all from the US, most with long-standing accounts in excellent standing. Our conversation led to the realization that we’d all completed the same hit (job) on Mturk. As it turned out, an organizer here at Turkopticon had previous interactions with the requester for this job and reached out to them. Amazon had suspended them (the requester) as well. Again, without reason, explanation, recourse, or any sort of communication.

During the course of events, a reporter from 404 media reached out to Turkoptiocon for a meeting. After the article initially aired, Amazon replied that “they are looking into suspensions and will work directly with workers on the issue” which, again, did not happen.

We continued to push for visibility on social media. A worker shared their personal story on LinkedIn, and Turkopticon continued to post and tweet, with many of our allies reposting and asking for justice.

On March 1st we started receiving reports of accounts being reinstated. We never got an answer from Amazon, which is disappointing, but we won. We came together and created a storm of action and pressure and workers got their accounts back. We did not have another moment of frustration without closure. We did what we always do, but this time, this time we won.

Readers, this is activism. You plan, you organize, you have meetings, you fight for funding, and fight the burnout. Then a moment happens. You get validation, you see lives affected, you see results and allies show their solidarity and your soul sings.

If you stay.

by Krista Pawloski