Leaked memo shows Amazon is warning employees to 'be vigilant' around their safety as far-right threats to blow up data centers emerge after Parler ban

By Eugene Kim

Amazon warned its data-center employees to be extra cautious about their safety after threats to attack the company emerged following its decision to ban Parler, a social-media app popular among the radical right, from its cloud platform on Saturday.

The company has also implemented new service-update restrictions at some data centers this week, which reflects the growing concern over a cyberattack or volatility in its service in the coming days, Business Insider has learned.

In an email titled "Be safe. Be vigilant" sent out on Saturday, Amazon Web Services' vice president of infrastructure operations, Chris Vonderhaar, urged his team to report any unusual activity in and around the company's data centers as Amazon "continues to closely monitor civil unrest in the United States." AWS has made a number of changes to "ensure the safety" of "our local teams and facilities, including our data centers," he added.

"We all need to [be] vigilant during this time to keep one another and our facilities safe," the email, obtained by Business Insider, said. "If you see something, say something — no situation or concern is too small or insignificant."

Separately, AWS told some engineers it was making Monday and Tuesday "blocked days" in parts of the US, a designation that prevents employees from making any major updates or changes to services without the approval of the company's most senior leaders, according to internal messages seen by Business Insider.

According to a screenshot of internal messages on Sunday seen by Business Insider, AWS engineers were scrambling to figure out how to deal with the unscheduled blocked days, as they wouldn't be able to continue with some of their work. Internal guidelines seen by Business Insider say "extreme caution" is required around changes on blocked days, and all changes must be approved by one of the 14 executives that report directly to AWS CEO Andy Jassy. Blocked days are usually reserved only for days when huge spikes in traffic are expected, like Black Friday or Election Day. Amazon changed the designation's name from "black days" last year as part of its new policy to ban non-inclusive language.

In the email on Saturday, Vonderhaar told AWS infrastructure employees to quickly bring up any life-threatening or dangerous situations at work to management and immediately notify the company about other serious incidents. It also came with media guidelines on how to treat members of the press, which told employees to report to Amazon's public-relations team if a reporter approached them on-site.

"Please remember that in the coming weeks your work remains vital to our customers," Vonderhaar wrote in the email.

The moves reflect Amazon's heightened awareness of the threats both physically and virtually facing the company after its decision to sever ties with Parler, which effectively shut down the social-media app widely used by far-right extremists. After Amazon announced it would pull the plug on Parler on Saturday, some users shared ideas of even bombing Amazon's data centers. The locations of Amazon's data centers are closely guarded for security reasons.

The BuzzFeed editor John Paczkowski said via Twitter on Sunday: "Meanwhile, over on Parler they're talking about blowing up AWS data centers."

Amazon's spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment.

'Very real risk to public safety'

Parler became popular in recent months among supporters of President Donald Trump and members of the far right as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook, where liberal users are more common. Top conservative figures recently moved to Parler and encouraged others to do the same, especially after Trump was barred from Twitter and Facebook last week.

But Parler has faced criticism for its weak content moderation — which allowed hate speech and violent content, including that posted by neo-Nazi supporters, to thrive on its platform. On Saturday, Amazon said it was booting Parler from its AWS cloud-hosting service because it was "unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others." AWS's ban followed similar decisions made by Apple and Google.

"Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler's account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST," the email said.

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