On Friday, Talia Ben-Ora, an entry-level customer-service employee at Yelp, posted an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium, detailing her perilous financial situation, the result of her astoundingly low wages. In the letter, Ben-Ora wrote about borrowing money from a CVS employee to pay for her commute to work, eating rice and drinking water to stave off hunger, and spending nearly her entire paycheck on San Francisco rent. She also took several shots at Stoppelman, calling him out for his nine-digit net worth and his house in the East Bay suburb of Moraga (median household income: a hair shy of $100,000). Perhaps not shockingly, she was fired a few hours after the post went viral.
Perhaps also not shockingly, there’s also been intense backlash to her post. You don’t get to challenge the assumptions of an entire industry without facing some criticism, after all! An anonymous website full of “incriminating” Instagrams and tweets of food or liquor Ben-Ora had posted in the past popped up, as though baking cupcakes, eating tacos, or holding a bottle of mid-range bourbon are proof that she wasn’t struggling. On Saturday, a writer named Stefanie Williams — at 29, four years older than Ben-Ora, 25 — who has written most extensively, it seems, for BroBible, posted a response to Ben-Ora’s letter, scorning her for, I guess, being paid minimum wage, not having roommates, not ending her letter by saying she got a job at Starbucks, and, worst of all, for pretending to thrive on Instagram.
“Maybe some advice will help,” Williams offers, “while you drink the incredibly expensive bourbon you posted on your Instagram account and eat that bag of rice, which was the only other thing you could afford!”
Here’s the thing. One, the “incredibly expensive” bourbon was Bulleit, which is, what, $25 a bottle? Two, and you’d think that people in the tech industry would understand this better than anyone, Instagram is not an accurate depiction of a person’s life. “A while ago [I decided] I only want to post stuff on Instagram that makes it seem like I’m thriving, even though I’m not, because I don’t want people to worry about me,” Ben-Ora told Quartz yesterday. As it is for nearly every single other Instagram user, I think it’s safe to say.
Williams is also highly critical of Ben-Ora’s decision to take a job at minimum wage in San Francisco that she knew didn’t necessarily guarantee a promotion, raise, or much else. With the job market as dire as it is for young people, it’s hard to give that much credence. Ben-Ora identified an area she thought would be the best compromise between her English degree and earning actual money — social media for a large tech company — and successfully got an entry-level job at a large tech company. Williams gives lip service to “not particularly” liking Yelp, but conveniently ignores the company’s part to play in this. Does she think it reasonable that a $3.5 billion company pays its employees minimum wage in the most expensive housing market in the country? Or that their response to the Bay Area’s housing crisis (that companies like themselves helped create) is to, uh, hire people in Phoenix and … that’s it? Does Ben-Ora really deserve an orchestrated takedown just because she wants to live and work in San Francisco and also afford food?