Today some activists surrounded a Google shuttle in San Francisco and kept it from moving away from a stop where it was picking up well-to-do techies to take them to work in Silicon Valley. The immediate target was the bus itself, but the actual issue was gentrification; highly paid employees of Google, Facebook, and other tech companies have been moving into SF and pushing rents above what many longtime residents can pay. The tech shuttles use public bus stops without paying for the privilege, which rankles more than a few of the locals.
During the action, someone got off the bus and shouted at the protesters, arguing for the entitlement of wealth. "Why don't you go to a city that can afford it?” he yelled. “This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job."
It was a pitch-perfect exemplar of how distressed San Franciscans view their new neighbors, fitting right into the class-warfare narrative. In fact it was too perfect: The shouter was actually a union activist, apparently trying to stir up anti-elitist sentiment. But the San Francisco Bay Guardian initially went ahead and ID’d him as a Google employee before “various tips … streamed in” that the shouter was a plant. (The notion was far-fetched to begin with: Google has a notoriously strict policy against employees talking to the media or anywhere they might be seen as representing the company. That display would likely be a career-ending move.)
Economic disparity is a real problem in the Bay Area as elsewhere, but still, as journalists it’s our responsibility to check the facts before we publish. Make it so Susie Cagle never has to say this again:
Pretty sure the angry tech workers who think local media knew all along that the Google worker was fake overestimate local media.
— Susie Cagle (@susie_c) December 9, 2013
Though Ryan Sholin pointed out one silver lining:
Really glad to see we're bringing the turnaround time down on verification of that crazy thing you just saw on the Internet.
— Ryan Sholin (@ryansholin) December 9, 2013