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Elon Musk fires Twitter employees worldwide

Elon Musk fires Twitter employees worldwide

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Scores of Twitter employees, including some involved in the company’s public policy and content-moderation activities, were fired on Friday as Elon Musk reimagines the social network.

In heartfelt tweets, many using the hashtags #LoveWhereYouWork and #OneTeam, employees took to the social media platform to let others know that they had been let go. Many of those posting had previously worked in roles including public policy, communication, engineering, marketing and human resources.

“All my thoughts, respect, energy and love to all tweeps around the world today,” Damien Viel, the head of the company’s operation in France, wrote on Twitter. “We have built together the most incredible app on the planet. Let’s be proud of everything we have done and how have done it.”

Many who have so far lost their jobs were barred from accessing company logins for online Twitter accounts Thursday night without having been previously informed that their contracts had been terminated, according to one former employee who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity.

Others posted failed efforts to log into their Twitter email addresses even before the official layoffs had been announced. “I woke up this morning to find I had no access to my work computer, work email and Slack account,” one person said. “My manager texted me to ask if I still had access, so at that point, not even managers knew who was still on their teams.”

To replace some of the reported 4,000 people who have so far lost their jobs, Twitter’s new boss had “brought in some engineers from Tesla and some investors and friends of his,” the person added, adding that the new leadership had justified the sackings in the interests of “cost-costing.”

One of the individuals laid off was Michele Austin, the company’s now-former director of public policy in North America.

The announcements follow an internal email that circulated Thursday that informed the company’s thousands of employees worldwide that they would be informed via email on November 4 whether or not they would remain at the company. There had been speculation that up to half of Twitter’s global workforce may lose their jobs, according to Bloomberg.

In the run-up to Friday’s purge, Musk’s new leadership had given employees “zero communication” on whose jobs would be at risk, according to another Twitter employee, who found themselves out of a job on Friday morning. That individual also spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

In the days after announcing his $44 billion takeover, the new Twitter boss pressed teams to “find ways to reduce company costs [by] as much as $3 million per day, or to urgently deliver new features,” including Twitter’s new paid-for verified tick, according to the ex-Twitter executive.

“Other than these urgent requests, we did not receive any other communications regarding the company strategy or layoffs,” the person said.  

In Dublin, Twitter’s European headquarters, employees speaking with the Irish Times have described the situation as “carnage,” where layoffs are “random and indiscriminate.” A now-former Twitter executive based in the United Kingdom told POLITICO that people were sharing frantic WhatsApp messages with colleagues, trying to garner the latest information about who had been fired — and who was still at the company.

“There’s a lot of droom-scrolling on Twitter to see what’s going on,” the individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told POLITICO.

Joan Deitchman, who was a senior engineer in Twitter’s machine learning, ethics, transparency and accountability team, wrote on the platform that the unit — whose job included research on how to improve transparency around automated algorithms — had been completely disbanded. That work is central to how regulators are now looking to police social media, including how potentially hate-filled content is promoted automatically across these platforms.

“All that is gone,” she said.

In a tweet Friday, Musk said the company had suffered from “a massive drop in revenue, due to activity groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything to appease the activists.” He did not say anything explicitly about the mass layoffs.

A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One Musk to rule them all

Disgruntled staff in the United States have launched a class-action lawsuit against Twitter, claiming they were not given enough notice of the termination of their contract under U.S. federal law. U.S.states like California and New York have tough laws that require companies to give employees lengthy notice before they are fired.

In Europe, similar strict labor laws in countries like Belgium, the United Kingdom and France may similarly make it difficult — and costly — for Musk to jettison local employees.

“Getting rid of public policy people when you’re claiming to do “real free speech” is the [stupidest] move ever,” Audrey Herblin-Stoop, Twitter’s former chief lobbyist in France, wrote on the platform.

Other tech companies had already begun trying to hire former Twitter employees: “If you work at Twitter and you find yourself without your job today, please reach out,” Juna González, an Amazon engineer, wrote on Twitter. “I’m sure we have the right role for you somewhere.”

The mass firing represents the next stage in Musk’s takeover of the social network, which remains a mainstay in how political leaders from U.S. President Joe Biden to France’s Emmanuel Macron to Iran’s Ali Khamenei communicate with a global audience.

In the hours after acquiring Twitter in late October, Musk fired the company’s board, including its chief executive Parag Argawal, as well as Vijaya Gadde, who ran the social media company’s legal, policy and trust teams.

In a bid to increase revenue at the social media network that has continuously struggled to make a profit, Musk also wants to charge people $8 a month so that their accounts can be verified via the company’s now-iconic “blue tick” logo. The mass layoffs announced Friday are also part of these efforts to make the company more profitable.

The world’s richest man has become a lightning rod for how online content should be policed after he posted falsehoods surrounding the attack on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in California, claimed the platform should be a global townhall where people can freely express their views, and promised advertisers that Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

“He specifically said to us that he does not want Twitter to be a hate amplifier,” said Yael Eisenstat, head of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology and Society, who participated in a call with Musk alongside other civil society groups this week. “We will continue to watch to make sure that those actions actually happen.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of people Twitter employs. It’s in the thousands.

This article has been updated.

Rebecca Kern contributed reporting from Washington.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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