3,700 fired after Musk's Twitter takeover

A week after Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, the company laid off approximately half of its workforce. About 3,700 employees lost their jobs on Friday, many of whom found out before they even received an official notice when they lost access to their work laptops, emails, and Slack channels.

Musk expressed his intent to buy Twitter in 2017 and again in January 2022, repeating his desire of privatizing it earlier this year in April by paying $54.20 per share. He was already the company’s largest shareholder with a nine percent stake. By July, however, he tried to back out of the deal, citing a report that alleged that five percent of Twitter’s user base is made up of bots. This was a breach of the legally-binding agreement Musk made to acquire Twitter, which led to Twitter suing Musk in the Delaware Court of Chancery. Musk purchased Twitter on Oct. 27 at the same price he had originally offered back in April. Within a day of the takeover Musk fired some of the Twitter's top executives, including CEO Parag Agarwal, CFO Ned Segal, and Head of Legal Policy Vijaya Gadde. Musk had also previously tweeted his criticism of Vijaya Gadde, who spearheaded Twitter’s content moderation policies during the takeover attempt. According to Musk, because the platform loses $4 million every day he had to cut jobs. Analysts speculated that Musk overpaid by $20 billion and would have to make significant cuts, which would result in at least 30 to 50 percent of the staff being laid off.

Twitter employees were notified that layoffs would begin on Friday, and that they should not go to the office until cuts were completed. Tweeps, as Twitter employees call themselves, started posting a “salute” emoji on their Twitter pages and internal Slack channels. Some reports indicated that earlier in the week, Musk brought in engineers from his other company Tesla, and asked them to review code written by Twitter employees, who were then alleged to have been laid off on the basis of the number of lines of code they had written. The official notice, which was sent to the employees who were laid off, did not carry the name or signature of Musk, their employer.

Large swathes of content moderation and ethical AI teams were all laid off during the cuts on Friday, including the Twitter META (Machine learning Ethics, Transparency and Accountability) team — led by notable researcher Rumman Chowdhary — and the Curation team, which helped contextualize information in the “Moments” tab and helped fight misinformation. Other teams like the Human Rights team, which protected users (including journalists and activists) from human rights violations in areas of ongoing conflict, and Accessibility Centre of Excellence team — which improved site accessibility for its disabled users — were disbanded. Several on-call and site reliability engineers were laid off, as was half the Public Policy team and a significant chunk of the Communications team. Yoel Roth, the head of Safety and Integrity at Twitter, said that 15 percent of its trust and safety staff were let go during the layoffs, but the core moderation capabilities are still intact.

Chief Consumer Officer Sarah Personette, who also served as head of ad sales (Twitter’s main source of revenue), resigned on Tuesday. With market uncertainty on the direction in which Twitter is headed, several companies including Volkswagen and General Mills have paused ad spending on the company. Musk tweeted unverified claims that Twitter had a massive drop in revenue because of pressure on advertisers from activist groups. In response, one of the marketers, who claimed to have met with Musk the day before the tweet, explained that the concern of advertisers is “content moderation and its impact on brand safety/suitability” and that even though Musk claimed to be committed to content moderation, he had laid off 75 percent of the moderation staff. Musk then blocked the marketer but later unblocked him.

With advertising currently a shaky source of revenue for Twitter, and Musk needing to pay over $1 billion in interest for the loans he had to take to buy the company, he has been actively looking for other sources of revenue with the help of his advisors like the angel investor Jason Calacanis. One of Musk’s first initiatives as the new owner of Twitter has been to release a new feature to Twitter Blue subscribers, which would enable its users to receive a blue checkmark on their profiles for a fee of eight dollars per month. For long, the blue check has been a symbol that denotes a verified user who is usually a celebrity, journalist, activist, media figure or some other notable public figure. Twitter introduced a verification system in 2009 to sort out authentic accounts from impersonators, increasing integrity of user experience on the site, after high-profile cases in which some celebrities were impersonated by fake accounts which had duped other users. But some others, like Musk, criticize the system, as they believe it was imposing a class system where verified users are at the head of the totem pole of the site. Twitter Blue was launched this year with a price of about five dollars a month, providing exclusive features to its subscribers like the ability to edit tweets after posting them and to bookmark folders. Musk initially set Twitter Blue at $20 a month and announced that, starting Monday, Nov. 7, only users who are subscribed to Twitter Blue will be verified users. This drew criticism from prominent users like writer Stephen King and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Musk reduced the price to $8 a month for American users.

There was also criticism from civil rights groups and other users that the move to release the new verification feature the day before the midterm elections in the United States would cause a significant increase in the spread of misinformation and confusion on the platform, which many users see as a reliable source of news. Twitter employees working on this feature were told by their managers that they are expected to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week, with the implication that this would make or break their careers at the company. After widespread criticism on the timing of this release, and glitches in the feature’s debut to existing Blue subscribers, Musk has pushed the date of the debut to after the midterm elections.

Musk has continued to tweet his ideas for improving Twitter, including the ability to add long-form text to tweets and to improve the search feature. The ability to tweet long-form texts is already a feature that was being developed by the Twitter Write team, which was laid off on Friday. Jason Calacanis, along with Musk’s other advisors, has been soliciting ideas from Twitter users and said that TweetDeck is high on the priority list of features to develop. However, a former Twitter employee revealed that most of the TweetDeck team had been let go during the layoffs.

Meanwhile, reports say that Twitter management has reached out to at least a dozen former employees it had laid off to bring them back into the company, as it believes they were laid off by mistake or before it realized that their skills and experience are required to build the features that Musk wants to introduce on the platform.