Widespread Twitter layoffs begin, worried advertisers and civic groups

Twitter began widespread layoffs on Friday as new owner Elon Musk revamps the company, raising serious concerns about the chaos shrouding the platform and its ability to tackle misinformation days before the US midterm elections .

The speed and size of the cuts also opened up Musk and Twitter to lawsuits. At least one was filed Thursday in San Francisco alleging Twitter violated federal law by failing to provide terminated employees with required notice.

The company had told workers by email that they would find out by Friday if they had been laid off. He did not say how many of the approximately 7,500 employees would lose their jobs.

Musk blames activists for drop in advertising

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the 29th Annual Baron Investment Conference in New York on November 4, 2022 (Business Wire)

Musk neither confirmed nor corrected investor Ron Baron at a Friday conference in New York when he asked Tesla’s billionaire CEO how much money he would save after he “fired half of Twitter.”

Musk responded by talking about Twitter’s cost and revenue challenges and blamed activists who have urged big companies to stop advertising on the platform. Musk did not comment on the layoffs themselves.

“Activist groups have managed to cause a massive drop in Twitter ad revenue, and we’ve done our best to appease them and nothing is working,” he said.

No other social media platform comes close to Twitter as the place where public agencies and other vital service providers – election commissions, police departments, utilities, schools and news outlets – keep people informed about reliably. Many fear that Musk’s layoffs will gut him and make him anarchic.

Several employees who tweeted about losing their jobs said Twitter also eliminated all of their teams, including one focused on human rights and global conflict, another that checks Twitter’s algorithms for bias in how tweets are amplified, and an engineering team dedicated to making the social platform more accessible to people with disabilities.

Fear that misinformation will spread “like wildfire”

Eddie Perez, a manager of Twitter’s civic integrity team who resigned in September, said he feared the layoffs so close to midterm would allow misinformation to “spread like a trail of powder” during the post-election counting period in particular.

“I find it hard to believe that it doesn’t have a significant impact on their ability to deal with the amount of misinformation that’s out there,” he said, adding that there may not have been any just not enough employees to push it back.

Perez, a board member of the nonprofit OSET Institute for Election Integrity, said the post-election period is particularly perilous because “some candidates may not back down and some may allege election irregularities. , which is likely to generate a new cycle of lies”.

Dismissed workers around the world

Twitter employees have been expecting layoffs since Musk took the helm. He fired senior executives, including CEO Parag Agrawal, and removed the company’s board from his first day as owner.

As emailed notices were sent out, many Twitter employees took to the platform to show their support for each other – often simply by tweeting blue heart emojis to signify its logo. bluebird – and greet emojis in replies to each other.

The mass layoffs will jeopardize content moderation standards, according to a coalition of civil rights groups that stepped up calls on Friday for brands to suspend ad buying on the platform. The layoffs are particularly dangerous ahead of elections, the groups warned, and for transgender users and other groups facing hate speech-inspired violence proliferating online.

Leaders of the Free Press and Color of Change organizations said they spoke with Musk on Tuesday, and he promised to retain and enforce the election integrity measures already in place. But the massive layoffs suggest otherwise, according to Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press.

“When you apparently fire 50% of your staff — including the teams tasked with tracking, monitoring, and enforcing moderation and content rules — that necessarily means content moderation has changed,” Gonzalez said.

The layoffs affected Twitter offices around the world. In the UK, Twitter would be required by law to give notice to employees, said Emma Bartlett, a partner specializing in employment and partnership law at CM Murray LLP.

In the case of mass layoffs, failure to notify the government could “be associated with criminal penalties,” Bartlett said, adding that whether criminal penalties are ever applied is another matter.

The speed of the layoffs could also open Musk and Twitter to discrimination claims if, for example, they are found to disproportionately affect women, people of color or older workers.

Labor lawyer Peter Rahbar said most employers “take great care in making redundancies of this magnitude” to ensure they are justified and do not unfairly discriminate or attract harassment. unwanted attention on the business.

The layoffs come at a difficult time for social media companies as advertisers cut back on spending and newcomers – primarily TikTok – threaten older platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

In a tweet on Friday, Musk blamed activists for what he described as a “massive drop in revenue” since taking over Twitter late last week. He did not say how much revenue had fallen.

Major companies such as General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi have all suspended ads on Twitter due to questions about its operation under Musk. Volkswagen Group said it recommends its brands, including Audi, Lamborghini and Porsche, suspend paid activities until Twitter issues revised brand safety guidelines.

Musk last week sought to convince advertisers that Twitter wouldn’t become a “free hellscape,” but many remain concerned that content moderation will remain as strict and whether staying on Twitter could tarnish their brands.

In his tweet, Musk said “nothing has changed with content moderation.”

But Twitter’s advertisers have steadily declined since Musk agreed to buy Twitter in April, according to MediaRadar, which tracks ad buying. Between January and April, the average number of advertisers on Twitter was 3,350. From May to September, the number dropped to 3,100. Prior to July, more than 1,000 new advertisers were spending on Twitter each month. In July and August, that number dropped to around 200.

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