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Lyft drivers fear censorship after internal email about speaking to press

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An internal email from Lyft sent in July urges drivers to inform the company whenever they are contacted by a reporter. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

From decrying false DUIs to violence in their vehicles — even critiques of a partnership with Taco Bell — Lyft drivers speak to the press in times of crisis, large and small.

Now, however, Lyft wants those drivers to check in with the company first.

In late July, the San Francisco-based company, Lyft, sent an email to its drivers that read: “Email press@lyft.com if you’re ever contacted by a reporter. Speaking of Lyft in the news: We’re here to help if you get approached for an interview. Shoot a note to our communications team and they’ll make sure you’re prepared for any questions.”

The move is drawing rebuke from drivers, who in internet forums and elsewhere expressed fear of crackdowns on freedom of speech and questioned the company’s labor fairness.

The warning comes as negative news surrounding Lyft’s competitor, Uber, led to the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick. Though Lyft is seen as the more friendly alternative to Uber, it isn’t immune to bad press.

And while the language in the email seems polite, some drivers saw the message as a thinly veiled threat.

“Scare tactics, to make some think they should contact Lyft first,” wrote Fort Lauderdale Lyft driver “DidIDoThat” on the ride-hail forum UberPeople.net.

“Lyft doesn’t want news like Uber got from some of it’s drivers,” the driver wrote, “and they know it can happen.”

Another driver from Minneapolis wrote that Lyft cannot restrict drivers’ comments as they would employees because Lyft classifies its drivers as independent contractors.

Christian Perea, a San Francisco driver for Lyft and Uber and a writer for the popular blog TheRideshareGuy.com, told the San Francisco Examiner that the company email likely reflects a desire to “get ahead of stories” written about Lyft and to tip them off to reporters’ scoops.

“However,” Perea added, “I think that a lot of drivers will get the impression that if they don’t reach out to Lyft after being contacted by a reporter, that they can be punished or deactivated.”

Scott Coriell, a Lyft spokesperson, wrote that censorship “wasn’t the intent, and that’s not something we would ever do.”

In a statement Coriell forwarded from Lyft, the company said drivers are free to speak to the press, and “there are no restrictions or requirements.” Lyft’s press team said they wanted to remind drivers “we’re here as a resource.”

That said, Perea was still worried.

“Overall,” he said, “it’s just a creepy message.”

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