What is going on with Twitter under Elon Musk?

7 Nov 2022

Elon Musk at the SpaceX headquarters on 10 October, 2019. Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A wave of cuts has taken place across Twitter with entire teams losing their jobs, but the company is reportedly asking some staff to return.

Twitter is dealing with the aftermath of its dramatic restructuring, with roughly half of its global workforce of 7,500 reportedly getting cut.

The company’s Irish workers were not immune to the job losses. The Irish Times reported that more than half of the 500 employees in Dublin were expected to lose their jobs.

Sources said the situation in Twitter’s European headquarters was “carnage”, describing the job cuts as “random and indiscriminate”.

The speed and scale of the restructuring may have caused some mistakes to be made. Platformer’s Casey Newton said Twitter has been reaching out to some staff it laid off, asking them to come back.

Sources also told Bloomberg that some staff were let go by mistake, while others were cut before management realised that their work and experience may be necessary for the future.

Where were the cuts made?

The job losses were more significant within certain parts of Twitter’s workforce, with entire teams reportedly losing their jobs.

Former twitter employee Shannon Raj Singh claimed the entire human rights team she worked with was cut from the company. She said the team worked to protect those at risk in global conflicts such as Ukraine, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

Former engineering manager Joan Deitchman also said on Twitter that the entire machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability team was cut during the restructuring.

“The team that was researching and pushing for algorithmic transparency and algorithmic choice,” Deitchman said. “The team that was studying algorithmic amplification. The team that was inventing and building ethical AI tooling and methodologies.”

Other teams that have reportedly seen deep cuts include the accessibly experience engineering team, the curation team responsible for Twitter Moments, and the company’s communications teams.

The Verge reported that almost the entire communications department is gone. Two Irish Twitter workers have said that they have been let go from this department.

Are these cuts legal?

It is currently unclear if Twitter can legally make job cuts in this manner, especially within Irish law.

A legal expert told The Irish Times that the Minister for Enterprise must be notified if a company plans to make more than 30 people redundant within a 30-day period. This is to ensure a 30-day consultation period, along with a fair process to decide who stays and who leaves the company.

The penalty for not giving the Minister adequate notice could be a fine of up to €250,000, while not giving employees adequate notice could lead to fines of up to €5,000.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, was not informed of the job losses planned at either Twitter or Stripe, the Business Post reports.

Meanwhile in the US, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Twitter in California, alleging the social media company violated state law by not giving staff enough notice of mass layoffs.

What has Elon Musk been saying?

Elon Musk has stressed on Twitter that there was “no choice” regarding the company’s reduction in staff. He claimed the platform is losing more than $4m a day.

“Everyone exited was offered three months of severance, which is 50pc more than legally required,” Musk said on Twitter.

Despite the cuts being made to certain teams, Musk also said Twitter’s “strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged”.

He claimed last week that hate speech had declined “below our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press”.

In the immediate aftermath of the completion of Musk’s $44bn takeover of Twitter, the Network Contagion Research Institute found that use of the N-word on the platform had increased nearly 500pc in the space of 12 hours.

What is the impact on trust and safety?

With the large number of job cuts, there have been questions about the future of Twitter’s content moderation. An independent adviser to Twitter’s trust and safety council, Danielle Citron, also expressed some concerns last week with Musk’s planned changes to the platform.

However, the company’s head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, claimed that the platform’s “core moderation capabilities remain in place”.

Roth said the reduction affected roughly 15pc of Twitter’s trust and safety organisation, with “our front-line moderation staff experiencing the least impact”.

“Last week, for security reasons, we restricted access to our internal tools for some users, including some members of my team,” Roth explained. “Most of the 2,000-plus content moderators working on front-line review were not impacted, and access will be fully restored in the coming days.”

Roth also said that more than 80pc of the incoming content moderation volume was “completely unaffected by this access change”.

Are advertisers leaving?

The recent shake-up following Musk’s takeover has also impacted Twitter’s advertising market, with two ad firms recently advising their clients to temporarily pause advertising on the platform, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In an email to clients seen by the publication, Interpublic Group said Twitter’s current situation is “unpredictable and chaotic” and it cannot be sure that the platform is a “safe place for brands”.

Musk previously tweeted to advertisers claiming that Twitter will not become a “free-for-all hellscape”. Despite this, companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi and Pfizer have paused their advertising on Twitter, Insider reports.

The number of senior staff leaving the company may have also created uncertainty among advertisers. Twitter’s former CCO, Sarah Personette, resigned last week ahead of the global job cuts, and journalist Kara Swisher claims Personette was “trusted by the marketing community”.

What has Jack Dorsey had to say?

Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey took to Twitter to express an apology for the company’s job cuts. “I grew the company size too quickly,” he tweeted over the weekend.

“Folks at Twitter past and present are strong and resilient,” Dorsey added. “They will always find a way no matter how difficult the moment.”

Dorsey previously endorsed Musk’s takeover of Twitter, calling the Tesla boss “the singular solution I trust”. Dorsey has also moved his Twitter shares into Musk’s X Holdings.

What’s happening with subscriptions?

One of the big changes Musk has been pushing for at Twitter is to charge users $8 a month to retain their verified status. The blue tick mark next to a username is currently free, but is typically reserved for high-profile figures and users who have been verified as trustworthy sources.

The platform’s App Store page has been updated to mirror the changes to the Twitter Blue subscription service that Musk has been proposing, but these changes do not appear to have been implemented yet.

It says that for $7.99 a month, Twitter Blue subscribers can get a blue tick. They can also soon avail of half the ads, longer videos and priority rankings for content.

A Twitter employee said Musk’s proposed changes are still being worked on but “some folks may see us making updates because we are testing and pushing changes in real time”.

Are users leaving Twitter?

There is a lot of discussion on Twitter about people planning to leave the platform, but the numbers are unclear.

Mastodon is one of the alternatives gaining attention. The free and open-source platform tweeted on 30 October that it got more than 70,000 sign-ups on the day after the Twitter takeover closed. However, some people are complaining that the site is less user-friendly with a complicated interface.

For now, it seems that people are staying on Twitter, though the numbers could shift depending on how new changes are implemented in the coming weeks and months.

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Elon Musk at the SpaceX headquarters on 10 October, 2019. Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic