Hootsuite made the decision to pull out of a customer contract involving the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after an outcry from employees and users, BetaKit has learned.
In an email obtained by BetaKit sent to all Hootsuite employees shortly after 9 pm PST on September 23, recently appointed CEO Tom Keiser stated that the company had decided to pull out of the deal it had with ICE.
“This is a significant decision for Hootsuite, and we know that this decision will also have a downstream impact to our business.”
“Today, the Executive Team and I have determined that we will be pulling out of the ICE deal,” the email reads. “This is a significant decision for Hootsuite, and we know that this decision will also have a downstream impact to our business and our partnerships, so it was not one that was made lightly.”
The email from Keiser regarding the decision was sent some two hours before an article published by BIV. That article was prompted by claims from a person identifying themselves as a Twitter employee, stating that Hootsuite had signed a deal with ICE. Hootsuite denied those claims to BIV.
Following questions regarding Keiser’s email and an internal committee that was assigned to review the ICE deal prior to it being closed, a spokesperson for Hootsuite told BetaKit, “Hootsuite is not entering into an ICE contract.” The company did not respond to questions about whether the BIV article prompted Keiser’s email.
US government documents obtained by BetaKit reveal an agreement between Hootsuite and ICE, through a third party, US-based firm by the name of FCN, Inc. Those documents indicate a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) delivery order for a Hootsuite license for ICE’s office of public affairs. The delivery order, for $508,832, indicates the licensing agreement began September 18, 2020.
Vancouver-based Hootsuite’s decision to pull out of the deal came after public and internal employee outcry around concerns of working with ICE, a US agency that has been a focus of criticism, throughout Trump’s current presidency, for certain tactics it has used. Most recently, ICE has been accused of sterilizing Mexican women being held in its custody.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s operations that BetaKit has agreed to keep confidential due to fear of reprisal have confirmed the company had been assessing the contract for some time. Through a three-month-long internal process, which sources say involved a committee including managers from every department and company executives, Hootsuite had been assessing the contract with ICE. Sources told BetaKit that Hootsuite ultimately decided to pursue the deal upon the recommendation of the committee, though some claimed that the decision was directed by Hootsuite executives.
In a statement to BetaKit on Thursday, Hootsuite’s CEO said, “although I typically would not make a public statement about our customers and our contracts, in this instance I feel it’s important.”
“Recently our company has had to go through the process of determining whether we would engage in a contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” he said. “That sparked a great deal of internal conversation—and the formation of a committee to further that discussion and consider all points of view. Considering the various factors, including our belief in the power of communications and social engagement to break down barriers, and supported by the set of objective guidelines that emerged from that committee, we made the decision to proceed with signing a contract with ICE.”
Keiser added that a “broad emotional and passionate reaction” from Hootsuite employees over the last 24 hours “spurred additional dialog.”
Executives reportedly told employees at a Thursday town hall that Hootsuite had been working with ICE since April.
“We have heard the lived experiences from our people and the hurt they are feeling,” the CEO wrote. “The decision has created a divided company, and this is not the kind of company I came to lead. I —and the rest of the management team— share the concerns our people have expressed. As a result, we have decided to not proceed with the deal with ICE.”
While the Hootsuite spokesperson told BetaKit the company is not entering into an ICE contract, they made no mention of FCN, Inc. After follow up questions regarding FCN, Inc and what prompted the committee’s decision to initially approve the ICE contract, the Hootsuite spokesperson sent this statement: “Hootsuite has provided the necessary information at this point. If the company has anything further to share, we’ll be sure to follow up.”
During a Hootsuite company-wide meeting that took place Thursday afternoon, executives reportedly told employees that Hootsuite had been working with ICE since April. This was explained as being part of a larger US government contract that allows Hootsuite to work with various government clients. Hootsuite was working with ICE during that time, one employee speculated, as part of a regular enterprise onboarding process for big clients.
Hootsuite’s agreement with ICE would have seen the agency using the company’s social media software. One source with knowledge of the company told BetaKit that various US government agencies have held contracts to use Hootsuite software since 2012. Hootsuite tends to work with those US government agencies through third-party facilitators and, currently, has a contract associated with the US State Department.
Concern about Hootsuite’s decision to work with ICE also stemmed from the fact that the social media tech company is a B Corporation, which are businesses that are said to “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
In his email to employees, Keiser wrote, “I do want to thank the teams who did a tremendous amount of work to help us evaluate who we do business with – this is a really thoughtful team and one that cares deeply about our company.”
He also added, “this decision is an exception to the WhoBiz guidelines that we will use on an ongoing basis to evaluate with whom we do business.” It is unclear at this time if Keiser was referring to the decision to pull out of the deal or the original decision to sign it.