‘Yandex’ fired a taxi driver for refusing an African passenger. Then a campaign defending the driver appeared on Twitter.
On June 9, the online ride-sharing service “Yandex.Taxi” fired a driver from Bryansk, who refused to pick up a Black student from Congo. The incident sparked criticism of the Internet company on social media, with the hashtag #яндекскуколд (in English, “Yandex is a cuckold”) becoming a top trending topic on Twitter in Russia. Many users demanded that the company apologize to the driver, and even called for a boycott of Yandex’s mobile apps. Meanwhile, the company maintains that “drivers prone to rudeness and racism” have no place at Yandex.Taxi.
“If I don’t like a person, I don’t take him”
On June 8, a video appeared in the group “Overheard Bryansk” on the social networking site “VKontakte.” The recording showed a conversation between a Bryansk State University student named Roy, and an unnamed Yandex.Taxi driver. The taxi driver explains that he refuses to take the passengers, whose “condition” he does not like. Roy asks, “So you’re a racist?” — the driver responds: “Of course, yes.”
Roy said that after the driver turned him down, he called a new taxi. He was afraid that the next driver would refuse to take him as well, but this didn’t happen. “There are good and bad people,” he said. According to Roy, he has a number of similar stories from his three years of living in Bryansk. He doesn’t understand why visitors from Africa are treated this way in Russia.
Initially, a Yandex.Taxi representative sent Roy a message apologizing for what had happened and promising to issue a “specific warning” to the driver. “Our service has strict rules and violating them is a very serious mistake,” said the message, which was published as a screenshot by the news site “Bryansk Today.”
The next day (June 9), the first media reports about the incident emerged, after which Yandex.Taxi announced that they had stopped working with the driver from Bryansk. “Immediately after the incident we contacted Roy, found out the details, and apologized to him,” the company’s press service told Meduza. “The driver can no longer carry out jobs [through] our service. We believe that drivers prone to rudeness and racism have no place at Yandex.Taxi.”
Controversy broke out on social media as some users called for boycotting Yandex and others defended the company
On social media, some users spoke out in defense of the fired driver and started urging Yandex.Taxi to apologize to him. Criticism of the company appeared under the hashtag #яндекскуколд (in English, “Yandex is a cuckold”), which quickly became widespread.
In good old English, a cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife. A shortened version of this term — “cuck” — is commonly used by the alt-right as an attack on an opponent’s masculinity. In other words, these Twitter users are implying that Yandex has been emasculated.
According to the online news site TJournal, a Twitter user with the handle @Fatalist_Rus started the hashtag, claiming that Yandex.Taxi had “infringed on the rights of Russian drivers,” and deprived the taxi driver of work “in a difficult economic situation, following organized harassment online.”
The backlash quickly took on nationalistic and even overtly racist language, as Russian speaking Twitter users began to lash out against Roy because of his ethnicity (among other things), and attempted to advocate for the Yandex.Taxi driver using racist stereotypes targeting migrant workers. Others tried to elicit sympathy for the driver by calling attention to him being Russian.
“Do Russian drivers not have the right to refuse to have someone sit in their car in their own country?” wrote one user on Twitter.
A number of Twitter users also added that the driver refused to take Roy because he was intoxicated, but there is no evidence to support these claims. “Migrants from #Yandexcuckold regularly cut policemen, get into accidents, drive drunk, register themselves with fake documents, [and] harass and rape Russian women. But instead of them, Yandex fires a conscientious working man, who refused a student showing signs of drugs,” one person said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, other people claimed that Roy filmed the driver in a deliberate attempt to provoke him and elicit a reaction on social media. “I want to remind you that people don’t just hold a camera in the faces of taxi drivers and film them without asking. It’s obvious that the insane African asked for it and provoked the reaction he needed from the driver in order to get hype on social networks. Abominable,” a Twitter user wrote.
Many people called for boycotting Yandex by deleting the company’s mobile apps, and giving them the lowest possible ratings in Apple’s “App Store” and on Google Play. At the time of writing, the Yandex.Taxi app had a rating of 4.9 stars out of 5 in the App Store, and 4.6 stars out of 5 on Google Play.
“I regularly use Yandex.Taxi and Yandex.Music but such stories as the dismissal of a regular Russian taxi driver literally for nothing have made me think about refusing to use Yandex services,” another Twitter user said.
Along with “Yandex cuckold” hashtag, tweets began to appear under the hashtag #RussianLivesMatter — a controversial slogan that Russia’s Libertarian politicians and activists have appropriated from the “Black Lives Matter” movement, in a professed attempt to mobilize a new campaign against police brutality in Russia.
Twitter users added #RussiaLivesMatter to posts calling on Yandex to apologize to the driver, and to tweets encouraging others to boycott the company. “Stop using Yandex — save Russia!” one user wrote, tagging the post with #Yandexcuckold and #RussianLivesMatter.
That said, many users were outraged when the hashtag “Yandex cuckold” became a trending topic on Twitter in Russia, in particular because it was used in a campaign defending the taxi driver. One user commented, calling the criticism of Yandex “Bacchanalia” and thanking the company for firing the driver. Another person criticized those promoting the hashtag “Yandex cuckold” for “sympathizing with a racist.”
“The racist taxi driver in Bryansk refused to take a Black student. A scandal broke out. The driver was fired. And rightly so,” one Twitter user wrote. “I am of Jewish heritage and in my life have encountered racism against me. Racists, go to hell.”
“I only just found out that there are people who think that Yandex was wrong [for] removing the driver from service, because he didn’t take a Black student. It’s horrible, of course, just how vicious [they] can be in their crassness,” another wrote in a tweet.
Meduza has asked Yandex.Taxi to comment on the backlash against the company, but has yet to receive a response.
Cover photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko / TASS / Scanpix / LETA