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A driver murders six people, and Uber has a crisis

After the tragic shooting in Kalamazoo, Uber's safety measures are under fire.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Two words appear in many of the headlines about the shooting of eight people in Kalamazoo on Saturday: “Uber driver.” Jason Stanton, the man charged with six murders for the shootings, was driving for Uber that day.

Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at the Stern School of Business at NYU, said it’s clear what Uber needs to do in response: First, acknowledge what happened. Second, make sure it’s the company’s top person, the CEO, who publicly addresses the issues.

“The third is you have to over-correct,” Galloway said, “They have to announce immediately a serious of additional screening tools that they’re implementing.”

While the shootings have prompted questions about how Uber screens drivers, the company defended its background checks and said it doesn’t have any plans to change them. 

The driver had earned a 4.73 rating from customers after more than 100 rides, Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said in a call with reporters Monday.

“A background check is just that,” added Ed Davis, a member of Uber’s safety advisory board, noting that Stanton did not have a criminal record. “It does not foresee the future.”

The shootings may also re-ignite the debate about how Uber and similar companies are regulated, said Christopher Koopman, a  research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

“People will most likely look at this and say, well if only they were treated X way or Y way by the regulators, then perhaps this wouldn’t have happened,” he said, though more information is need before that question can be answered.

It doesn’t help that this is the latest is a series of issues for Uber.

“There are issues around the CEO and other executives, and how they’ve dealt with different controversies that have come up,” said Corey Dade, who works in crisis management with the public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller.

That matters because a company’s reputation going into a crisis is very important for how easily they can emerge from it, said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

“Because when something bad happens,” Argenti said, “if there’s anything that questions your reputation at all, you’re going to be hit much harder. That’s just a part of the way life is.” 

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