Twitter workers are resigning in droves after Elon Musk’s ultimatum passed

Twitter saw another exodus of employees Thursday as the company met a deadline set by billionaire Elon Musk after which remaining employees had to pledge to be “extremely hardcore” or leave the company.

Departing employees posted on Twitter under the hashtag #LoveWhereYouWorked, and announced that it was her last day on the social network. Twitter has been in chaos since Musk completed his $44 billion purchase in late October. Many accompanied their posts with a saluting emoji, which has become a symbol of respect within Twitter for those who are leaving.

Musk already laid off half of the company’s 7,500 full-time employees on Nov. 4, reportedly laid off thousands of contractors over the past weekend, and fired several employees who had publicly criticized him.

On Wednesday, in an email to employees titled “A Fork in the Road,” Musk said Twitter had to be “extremely hardcore” to be successful. Those who choose to stay should expect long, intense hours of work. Those who left would receive a three-month severance pay, he wrote. The employees had to decide by Thursday afternoon.

The new wave of departures adds to fears that Twitter is losing vital expertise in everything from how the site and its servers operate to the security of user data and compliance to how it handles toxic and illegal content.

Earlier Thursday, a group of Democratic senators sent an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into Twitter. They said they were concerned the company could breach terms of a settlement with the agency stemming from previous data breaches.

Musk “has taken alarming steps that have undermined the integrity and security of the platform,” the senators wrote.

Former worker warns cuts will have consequences

When Musk fired half of Twitter’s workforce just days before the midterm elections, Melissa Ingle was left in limbo.

She was a data scientist on Twitter’s Civic Integrity Team, monitoring the platform for tweets that could break its rules against misleading election claims. But she was a contractor, not a Twitter employee. When the cuts came, she didn’t even know who was left to sign her timesheets.

“My boss got fired, and my boss’s boss — the department head — resigned. So I didn’t know who my boss was. I didn’t know what new job I had,” she said.

As the end of voting fast approached, Ingle and her team worked overtime to flag untruths and hurtful tweets. She says she thinks they did a good job given the circumstances.

“But at the same time, we’re not really sure if the work we’re doing is meaningful to the new owner.”

On Saturday she got an answer: she no longer has a job on Twitter.

“I just found out that I was fired [because] I happened to check my phone around 5:30 am [P.M.]and I got a little popup saying you were logged out of one or more systems,” Ingle recalled.

Rapid changes are disrupting Twitter’s business

Ingle and others warn Musk’s rapid changes could hurt Twitter’s ability to deal with toxic content and are already disrupting its business as the chaos spilling over onto the platform threatens its ad revenue.

“There’s a myopic view of platforms that see trust and security work and integrity work as a kind of cost center and the people who are trying to pull the business down, rather than actually trying to help the business grow over the long term,” Jeff Allen said , former data scientist at Facebook and co-founder of the Integrity Institute, a group focused on online trust and safety.

At Twitter, like other mainstream social media companies, this work depends heavily on people.

There are the staff who set policies, staff like Ingle who build automated systems to analyze the 37.5 million tweets that are posted every hour, and most importantly, a large group of content moderators who constantly review the posts. They are almost exclusively contractors.

Many of these workers have since been laid off or resigned. The first round of cuts saw 15% of Twitter’s trust and security staff cut. after Yoel Roth, who headed the department. Roth resigned two days after the election.

The first round of layoffs also eliminated Twitter’s entire curation team of about 150 employees. They played an important role in adding context and descriptions to news and events trending on the platform, and curating collections of tweets from authoritative sources to address misleading or false claims.

It’s unclear how many of the contractors eliminated last weekend were content moderators. Twitter did not respond to questions about the details of the job cuts.

But losing even part of that workforce would be a blow. Ingle said her work is critical to improving the algorithms she writes and understanding things computers can’t do, like sarcasm and parody.

Automated systems “need constant input and updates, testing and tweaking, just like any other computer script would require… If there aren’t enough people updating the algorithms, they become more and more porous,” she said. “Automation is a lofty goal, and it’s a great goal. But we’re just not there yet.”

Global Impact

Reducing content moderation could also land Musk in hot water with European regulators. For example, German law requires social networks to quickly remove illegal content or face fines.

“You either have content moderation or you don’t,” said Sarah Roberts, a UCLA professor of information science who worked briefly at Twitter earlier this year. “They don’t just have some kind of content moderation. Removing child sexual exploitation material is content moderation.”

Ingle is also concerned about the global impact as big events loom, from the World Cup which starts on Saturday to elections around the world.

“We’re hyper-fixated on the US election in the US, but we’ve looked at the recent Brazilian election and we’ve looked at elections around the world: Japan, India, the EU, the UK,” she said. “If this global demise of Twitter occurs, it will definitely affect democracies around the world.”

A screenshot from a video posted to Elon Musk's Twitter account on Oct. 26, 2022 shows him holding a sink as he enters Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.

– / Elon Musk/AFP Twitter account

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Elon Musk/AFP Twitter account

A screenshot from a video posted to Elon Musk’s Twitter account on Oct. 26, 2022 shows him holding a sink as he enters Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.

The upheaval since the takeover by Musk is already visible on Twitter.

Musk himself tweeted a conspiracy theory. Hate speech increased in the days following the deal. According to NewsGuard, which ranks the reliability of online news sources, accounts that repeatedly make false claims get more engagement.

His analysis found that while these accounts tweeted just 6% more in the week after Musk took control, they saw a 57% increase in likes and retweets over the same period.

“The type of content they were putting out contained disproportionately more misinformation than usual, and that’s driving engagement,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz.

Musk’s first major product change — allowing users to purchase so-called blue checks, which previously indicated that high-profile users were who they said they were — sparked a spate of accounts posing as corporations, celebrities, and politicians.

White nationalists and far-right extremists also signed up for the checks, according to a review of accounts by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Twitter’s Trust and Security team had warned of the possibility that the feature could be abused before its rollout, in an internal document first reported by Platformer and viewed by NPR.

This included “impersonating world leaders, advertisers, brand partners, election officials and other high-profile individuals.” The document warned that “motivated scammers/bad actors” would likely be willing to pay for the increased visibility that the blue checks offer.

The team recommended ways to mitigate risk, most of which were not adopted, according to notes in the document.

The blue check debacle exacerbated Twitter’s business woes as more and more advertisers stopped spending. According to Roberts, it’s no wonder big brands are wary — and not just when their messages appear alongside toxic tweets.

“They are concerned about being associated with Twitter itself as a brand,” she said.

Amid the chaos, Twitter paused the launch of paid blue checks. Musk said it will reboot after Thanksgiving, with some crash barriers.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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