Elon Musk ended his first week as the new owner of Twitter by axing almost half of the company’s workforce with little-to-no notice and by abruptly cutting employees’ access to computers, work systems and offices.
Musk tweeted late on Friday, 4 November, that the cuts were necessary as “unfortunately, there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day.”
Sacked workers expressed gratitude to their colleagues and spoke out against the “unethical” layoff process. Read more on that here.
According to news reports and announcements from terminated employees, here is a lowdown of the teams that have been laid off, with a combined composition of almost 3700 employees.
The human rights team, which worked to protect those at-risk in conflict areas was completely laid off, a now-former employee said.
The Machine Learning, Ethics, transparency and Accountability (META) team was fully axed.
The “internet technology team,” which is partly responsible to keep the website functioning, was slashed to “a skeleton crew” two sources told The New York Times.
The accessibility experience team was also fired, as confirmed by a now-former head of the department.
The curation team, majorly responsible for fighting misinformation, was also fully cut.
Twitter’s communications department was also cut to a bare bones crew, The Verge reported.
Other areas that have been significantly impacted include product trust and safety, public policy, research and social good.
“I am enormously proud of the work we did to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to protect those at-risk in global conflicts and crises, including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, and to defend the needs of those, particularly at risk of human rights abuse by virtue of their social media presence, such as journalists and human rights defenders.”Shannon Raj Singh
The team worked to protect users facing human rights violations around the globe, including activists, journalists and people affected by conflicts like the war in Ukraine.
There is no clarity on the exact parts of Twitter’s communications department that Musk axed. However, the job cuts ran significantly deep in India, where sources told Mint and Hindustan Times that the entire department was sacked.
"Layoff has started. Some of my colleagues have received an email notification regarding this," an anonymous Twitter India employee told Mint, while another said that a “significant chunk" of employees in India had been axed.
The Economic Times, quoting sources, said that Indian employees started receiving termination notices on Friday, while only a few were sent ‘survivor’ emails, referring to a term coined within the Indian team for those who were not laid off.
Meanwhile, Julie Steele, former director and head of global internal communications, said that she is leaving the company with her “head is held high, knowing I gave it my absolute all.”
The move to slash the communications department has increased fears that Twitter may follow in the path of Tesla, Musk’s company that has stopped communicating with the press.
Historically, Musk has had a tumultuous relationship with the media and in an unprecedented move in 2020, dissolved Tesla’s public relations department.
META: Machine Learning, Ethics, Transparency and Accountability
As a part of Musk’s aggressive plan to cut costs, he cut a team of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, whose main purpose was to increase transparency in Twitter algorithms.
Director for Twitter’s Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency and Accountability (META) team and noted Bengali American data scientist Rumman Chowdhury also lost her job, and said, “Has it already started? Happy layoff eve!”
Chowdhury told WIRED that the groups’ work was shelved pending Musk’s acquisition and added that her team was doing important new research on the political bias that may have helped Twitter from preventing certain viewpoints from being unfairly penalised.
Joan Deitchman, who also worked on the META team as a senior manager, confirmed that the whole team had been fired and said, "Yep, the team is gone."
The ethical AI team was dedicated to identifying and mitigating the increasing problems around biases surrounding race, gender and age.
Musk also axed Twitter’s curation team, TechCrunch reported. The team was responsible for curating the moment tab, programming trending topic sections and handling live events. But most importantly, the team also worked to fight misinformation on Twitter.
Simon Balmain, a former community manager in the curation team, said that axing the anti-disinformation curation team “poses real risks going forward”.
While Musk claimed that there had been no changes to content moderation, internal sources have told several media outlets that the team has been gutted.
The team plays an important role in the coverage of “civic integrity” events like elections, sports and breaking news and ensures that users vet the information presented as trends, topics and moments. Internally, Twitter viewed the team as an important filter against misleading posts.
The move to slash the curation team also came just four days before the crucial US Midterm elections. A report from The Guardian suggests that this could potentially jeopardise the company’s ability to fight misinformation.
One moderator warned of a risk where content could very well become “more toxic.”
Musk, on Saturday, defended his layoff decision as he stressed, "unfortunately there is no choice". He shared that Twitter "is losing $4 million a day."
The accessibility experience team was also fired, as confirmed by Gerad K Cohen, former head of the department.
“I am officially no longer the Engineering Manager for the Accessibility Experience Team at Twitter…Along with me, my entire engineering team has been let go,” he said.
The team was composed of a group of designers and engineers, some of whom have lived experience of disability, focusing on providing “the best experience regardless of device, platform, or disability by incorporating established guidelines and best practices.”
(With inputs from The Guardian, The New York Times, The Verge, Hindustan Times, Mint, The Economic Times and WIRED.)