Angkas, Ride-sharing App and Twitter Darling, Gets Embroiled in Political Controversy
As it usually is with the regular churn of political controversy on social media, it started with a public accusation, and then got real messy, real fast.
Over the past few days, one subject of such controversy has been Angkas, a Filipino motorcycle ride-sharing app. As a brand, Angkas has done well for itself on Twitter, where its witty remarks and millennial persona have made it a favorite.
But over the weekend, Angkas was hit by a wave of controversy, sparked by photographs of a crowd of men wearing Angkas rider uniforms in a rally supporting the Senate bid of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go. These were tweeted by @heycaloy, who insinuated, in his caption, that the brand supports Go.
Twitter users were quick to pull the call-out trigger: A bunch of sassy GIFs and memes and "cancelled" comments were tossed out to express widespread disappointment. Angkas was supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them, people felt.
Naturally, Angkas responded by refuting the claim that the brand supports SAP Go, first with another one of its witticisms, then on a more serious note. After that, things get interesting. The ensuing Twitter thread became a meaningful springboard for discussion about the responsibilities of private companies and individuals in public life, about freedom of expression in a democracy, and about the autocratic tendencies of online "cancel" culture. Read through it for yourself:
It's a lot to take in, and there are several arguments in the fray already.
Some people believe Angkas' denouncement is disingenuous. Some believe Angkas should reprimand its riders (who, it should be noted, are not Angkas employees, but "partners," in the typical ride-sharing structure) for wearing their uniforms during a political demonstration. Some believe Angkas' political neutrality is part of the problem. And some believe Woke Twitter™ is going too far. For its part, Angkas seems to believe that the public outrage was encroaching on its riders' freedom of expression.
The trouble is in the nuances—particularly, the uniforms. Because these men happened to participate in the demonstration while wearing their Angkas uniforms, there was conspicuous representation; there was reason to think that the brand could have been a part of the protest. (Of course, whether or not one would make that association is a subjective matter, but clearly some people did.)
But Angkas itself has, in the aftermath, stated publicly that it was not involved in the demonstration, and does not support a political candidate. Clearly, then, the brand was misrepresented by its riders. The riders shouldn't have worn their uniforms while publicly and collectively expressing their individual political views, which they are nevertheless entitled to. That they did was unfortunate.
The argument could have ended there, with Angkas publicly declaring political neutrality and respect for its riders' beliefs; and then (we should only hope) privately asking those riders to be more judicious about what they do and say while wearing Angkas-branded uniforms, if only to avoid misrepresentation. After all, Angkas would have been within its rightful privilege as a brand to politely ask this of its riders without "curtailing" anyone's freedom. And that could have been that.
But we live in the age of social media, in which righteous indignation tends to spiral out of righteous bounds. Despite Angkas' statement in which it distanced itself from SAP Go, Twitter users continued to pile on, calling for a boycott and announcing that they have uninstalled the app. What would have just been an unfortunate PR crisis for Angkas turned into a cancel-party for Twitter users at large, who demanded more and continued to speculate about the brand's allegiances. It shows how unforgiving social media platforms can be, and how our political climate can turn even the most random, fortuitous events into internet dumpster fires.
As the dust clears on this controversy-of-the-moment, perhaps the only hopeful takeaway is the discourse that came out of it—the opportunity to reflect and argue about private responsibilities and public lives. The bleaker takeaway is how savagely we do it on the internet, and how, in all this, Bong Go is still the center of attention.
Meanwhile, we take solace in the fact that Angkas still has this tweet pinned to the top of its feed: