Unlike the neighborhood bakery that wants customers to add their names and addresses to a petition for expanded outdoor seating, tech companies typically already know who and where their users are. It means startups can mobilize — or brobilize — thousands of people via a simple email or push notification to blast targeted messages to their elected officials, often with just a few clicks. It’s like astroturfing for the always-on, location-aware era.
Bird — which has also tried to brobilize customers in Milwaukee, Culver City, and Boston— did not invent this method of getting startup customers to help fight regulation. Uber texted its customers in Texas when the city of Austin was trying to force drivers to undergo more stringent background checks. Airbnb has done it in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, where hosts participating in a political campaign called Airbnb Citizen have lobbied legislators by phone, in the street, and in public hearings. Just this week, delivery company DoorDash set up a website where its delivery workers can ask California lawmakers to override a court decision that would make it harder to continue classifying those workers as independent contractors.
These click-to-lobby efforts have been ramping up for a few years now as elected officials get more serious about regulating tech (or more cognizant of the political value of appearing to do so) and startups increasingly ask their user bases to defend them in response.