Elon Musk is axing entire departments at Twitter—here’s how that could affect users
The layoffs could have major ramifications for users' experience on the social media platform.
This story is developing.
Elon Musk is wasting no time following through on rumors of his promise to gut Twitter’s workforce. Upon his recent $44 billion purchase of the social media platform, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO floated firing about half of the company’s roughly 7,500 employees. In an internal, unsigned email sent to staff yesterday and subsequently circulated online, it was conveyed that “in an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force.” A few employees already reported receiving termination notices on Thursday, with many more announcing wholesale shutdowns of various departments early this morning.
As reported by Gizmodo, at least five former employees are already readying a class action lawsuit against Twitter for failure to comply with California’s WARN Act, “a law that requires large employers to provide 60 days of notice to employees before mass layoffs.” Meanwhile, as many as 1 million users have already deactivated their Twitter accounts, according to MIT Technology Review.
Based on former employee tweets and news outlet sources, the cuts as anticipated appear to affect roughly half the workforce, including product trust and safety, policy, curation, AI, data science, research, social good, machine learning, and vital engineering teams. The Washington Post also notes via anonymous sources that Twitter’s entire communications team now consists of just two people.
A running list of what areas Twitter HQ is shuttering can be found below, along with brief explanations of their functions. Any former or current Twitter employees are encouraged to reach out to PopSci by emailing email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org
Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability (META) Team
Confirmed via former Twitter employee Joan Deitchman, the META team (not relation to Facebook’s parent company) was responsible for “researching and pushing for algorithmic transparency and algorithmic choice… studying algorithmic amplification… [and] inventing and building ethical AI tooling and methodologies.”
The department’s dissolution could make it more difficult to understand how Twitter’s algorithms decide what stories and trends are pushed more than others, as well as decrease transparency in the ways the company decides to mitigate and address AI bias.
Confirmed via former employee, Andrew Haigh, the Curation Team’s recently launched website described its focus as being “responsible for highlighting and contextualizing the best events and stories that unfold on Twitter… including Topics, Trends descriptions, and Moments, makes it easy for customers to experience only-on-Twitter conversations and get the most out of the platform, regardless of which accounts they follow.” Another former team member, James Glynn, was the group’s Senior Curation Lead dedicated to “Misinfo, Elections, [and] Crisis Situations.”
Decreased focus on how stories and news cycles are both promoted, described, and fact-checked could make it much harder for Twitter users to trust trending topics’ veracity and objectivity.
Accessibility Experience Team
Confirmed by former engineering manager, Gerard Cohen, Accessibility Experience pretty much concerned what the name implies—making Twitter’s interface and interactions as intuitive to users as possible, regardless of physical access issues. Most recently, the team introduced the “Alt Text” feature for images, which provided descriptions of tweeted media for users with vision impairments and issues. “We had so much more to do, but we worked hard! There aren’t very many people that have had the opportunity to make such an important global platform like Twitter accessible, but we understood the mission,” Cohen wrote on Twitter.
The lack of a dedicated accessibility team might mean far less support for users who could benefit from interface accommodations and upgrades. This, hypothetically, may minimize who can use Twitter.
Human Rights Team
Shannon Raj Singh, now former Human Rights Counsel at Twitter, tweeted today that the entire team has been cut from the company. The team was focused on protecting Twitter users, journalists, and activists facing human rights violations around the world, including those in the midst of conflicts like those in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. According to Singh’s tweet, the team had also implemented the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights.