The layoff sweep at Twitter was nothing if not chaotic and cruel, and after months of speculation and hollow denials about what was to come, employees are left either holding the bag or waiting to find out what their severance packages look like.
"This is a master class in how not to do it," says Sandra Sucher, a professor of management and expert in layoffs at Harvard University, speaking Friday to the New York Times about the mass layoffs. “If you were going to rank order ways to upset people, telling them you’re going to do it in advance, without rationale, that is a particularly inhumane way to treat them."
As New York-based employment lawyer Peter Rahbar says to the Associated Press, there's a good reason why most companies "take great care in doing layoffs of this magnitude."
"First, they want to make sure there is justification, and second that a nondiscriminatory process is used," Rahbar tells the AP. "And third, they want to do everything they can not to draw attention to it for these reasons."
New Chief Twit Elon Musk appears, predictably, not to have a gracious or thoughtful bone in his body, and this has all just been a matter of dollars and cents. He didn't even have the courage to sign his name to the impersonal layoff notice that went out to the entire company on Thursday night.
Even still, Musk declined to answer today when another oligarch, investor Ron Baron, asked him how much money he was saving by having "fired half of Twitter." As the AP reports, Musk went on to discuss Twitter's financial challenges generally, and he reiterated what he said in a tweet early Friday about activist groups — some of whom he met with over Zoom earlier this week and possibly again in the last 24 hours — who have called for boycotts by advertisers.
To Musk's mind, it's the actions of these activists, and not the instability of the company he just gutted and the uncertainties around future content moderation and hate speech, that is scaring off the advertisers.
"The activist groups have been successful in causing a massive drop in Twitter advertising revenue, and we’ve done our absolute best to appease them and nothing is working," Musk reportedly whined in response to Baron.
Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 4, 2022
Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.
Their "absolute best to appease them" seems to be just a couple of conference calls, and a pledge not to make any changes to the election integrity rules and process.
One of the organizations calling for boycotts, Free Press, was dissatisfied today with Musk's promises, noting that the layoffs were impacting workers in the content moderation department.
Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, tells the AP, "When you lay off reportedly 50% of your staff — including teams who are in charge of actually tracking, monitoring and enforcing content moderation and rules — that necessarily means that content moderation has changed. He cannot enforce content moderation if he doesn’t have the staff to do so. AI alone cannot solve this problem."
We know that members of the communications team at Twitter were laid off, and the New York Times hasn't been able to reach anyone for comment. The Chronicle reports that a team working on "machine learning ethics, transparency, and accountability" had been laid off; also, a team devoted to combatting human rights abuses on the platform reportedly lost their jobs.
The Verge reports that the trust and safety team was hit, along with other departments including those concerned with social good, tweet curation, and data science.
Two sources in the company told the Times that the internal IT team at Twitter, "which is partly responsible for keeping the site functioning," was now "a skeleton crew" after the layoffs. The disability experience team was also reportedly gutted, as well as the "marketing, social, curation, studio and enforcement teams," per the Times.
As one commenter on the layoffs, Matt May, an employee at Adobe, said about the layoffs of disability experience workers, "A 3500-employee tech company without an accessibility team is unheard of. It's a statement that disabled users aren't worth serving."
We joked yesterday about whether the team responsible for the most urgent project at the company right now — according to Musk anyway — the push to launch a paid verification system that will charge users $8/mo for blue checkmarks and other perks, would also be hit with layoffs while Musk was making them work crazy long days to hit a Monday deadline. And yes! Per the Times, someone in the middle of a 9:30 p.m. PT meeting last night lost access to the Twitter network and abruptly dropped out of the conference call.
The only teams we haven't heard about seeing mass layoffs are in advertising and brand partnerships, though the extent of the layoffs probably won't be clear to the public for days.
San Francisco politicians, meanwhile, have been denouncing the layoffs using their own Twitter accounts.
State Senator Scott Wiener posted a statement Thursday saying that the gutting of teams concerned with trust and safety and moderation means Twitter "is likely to be a more dangerous place for LGBTQ people, Jews, people of color & anyone else who doesn’t fit in with the right-wing vision for our country."
And Assemblymember Matt Haney tweeted, "Slashing jobs by the thousands without notice at Twitter, a hostile 'nightmare' work environment, creating instability on a site that people use to access critical information just days before an election--don't defend or justify it, it's wrong, mean & dangerous."
Meanwhile, Mayor London Breed is telling laid off employees of Twitter and other companies to apply for one of the 5,000 open jobs at the city. Because that's probably a lateral move.
Top image: Twitter headquarters stands on Market Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, California. Twitter Inc reportedly began laying off employees across its departments on Friday as new owner Elon Musk is reportedly looking to cut around half of the company's workforce. (Photo by David Odisho/Getty Images)