Twitter workers quit after Elon Musk gives ultimatum: NPR

Twitter in San Francisco. The social media company has fired thousands of workers and contractors, many of whom were involved in determining whether content on the site violated site policies or violated US or foreign laws.

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Twitter in San Francisco. The social media company has fired thousands of workers and contractors, many of whom were involved in determining whether content on the site violated site policies or violated US or foreign laws.

David Odisho/Getty Images

Twitter saw a further exodus of employees on Thursday as the company reached a deadline set by billionaire owner Elon Musk for remaining staff to pledge to be “extremely hardcore” or leave the company.

The departing employees posted on Twitter under the hashtag #LoveWhereYouWorked, announcing that it was their last day on the social network. Twitter has been wracked with chaos since Musk completed his $44 billion purchase in late October. Many accompanied their messages with a saluting emoji, which has become a symbol on Twitter of respect for those who leave.

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

In an email to staff titled “A Fork in the Road” on Wednesday, Musk said Twitter “would have to be extremely hardcore” to be successful. Those who chose to stay should expect long and intense hours of work. Those who left would receive a three-month severance package, he wrote. Employees had to choose before Thursday afternoon.

The new wave of departures adds to fears that Twitter is losing critical expertise in everything from how the site and its servers are run to how it protects user data and complies with regulations to how it handles toxic and illegal content.

Earlier Thursday, a group of Democratic senators sent an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission demanding an investigation into Twitter. They said they were concerned the company might violate the terms of a settlement with the agency stemming from past privacy breaches.

Musk “took alarming actions that undermined the integrity and security of the platform,” the senators wrote.

Ex-worker warns cuts will have consequences

When Musk fired half of Twitter’s employees 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 might violate its rules against misleading election claims. But she was a contractor, not a Twitter employee. When the cuts happened, she didn’t even know who was left to sign her time sheet.

“My boss was fired and my boss’s boss – the head of the department – quit. So I didn’t know who my boss was. I didn’t know what new assignment I had,” she said.

With the end of voting fast approaching, Ingle and his team worked overtime to flag the lies and violent tweets. She says she thinks they did a good job, given the circumstances.

“But at the same time, we don’t really know if the work we are doing is important to the new owner.”

On Saturday, she got an answer: she no longer had a job at Twitter.

“I only learned that I had been fired [because] I happened to be looking at my phone around 5:30 [P.M.]and I got a little window that told me you had been disconnected from one or more systems,” Ingle recalled.

Rapid changes disrupt Twitter business

Ingle and others warn that Musk’s rapid changes risk compromising Twitter’s ability to deal with toxic content and is already disrupting its business as the chaos spreading across the platform threatens its ad revenue.

“There’s a short-sighted view of platforms that can view trust and safety work and integrity work as a bit of a cost center, and people trying to bring the business down rather than actually trying to help the company grow for the long term,” said Jeff Allen, a former data scientist at Facebook who co-founded the Integrity Institute, a group focused on online trust and safety.

At Twitter, like other mainstream social media companies, that job relies heavily on people.

There are the staffers who set the policies, workers like Ingle who develop automated systems to analyze the 37.5 million tweets posted every hour, and above all, a large group of content moderators who constantly review posts. They are almost entirely entrepreneurs.

Many of these workers have now been fired or resigned. The first round of cuts slashed Twitter’s trust and safety employees by 15%, according to Yoel Roth, who led the division. Two days after the election, Roth resigned.

The first round of layoffs also eliminated Twitter’s entire curation team, which numbered around 150 people. They have played an important role in adding context and descriptions to trending news and events on the platform, and curating collections of tweets from authoritative sources to help 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 a portion of that workforce would be a huge blow. Ingle said their work is essential to improving the algorithms she wrote and understanding things that computers can’t understand, like sarcasm and parody.

Automated systems “need constant input, updating, testing and fine-tuning, just like any other computer script would…If there aren’t enough people to update 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 implications

Reducing content moderation could also land Musk in hot water with European regulators. German law, for example, 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 information studies professor who briefly worked on Twitter earlier this year. “You don’t just have some kind of content moderation. Removing child sexual exploitation material is content moderation.”

Ingle is also worried about the global implications as big events loom, from the World Cup, which begins on Saturday, to elections around the world.

“We’re hyper-obsessed in the US with US elections, but we’ve covered the recent Brazilian elections and we’ve covered elections around the world: Japan, India, EU, UK,” she said. . “If this global decline of Twitter occurs, it will certainly affect democracies around the world.”

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

-/Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP

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-/Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP

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

-/Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP

The upheaval since Musk took over is already evident on Twitter.

Musk himself tweeted a conspiracy theory. Hate speech surged in the days after the deal was struck. According to NewsGuard, which rates the trustworthiness of online news sources, accounts that repeatedly share false claims drive more engagement.

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

“The types of content they were putting out contained disproportionately more misinformation than they usually had, and that’s what drives engagement,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz.

Musk’s first big product change — allowing users to buy so-called blue checks, which previously marked high-level users as who they claimed to be — sparked a flood of accounts posing as companies, celebrities and politicians.

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

Twitter’s trust and safety team had warned of the feature’s potential for abuse before its rollout in an internal document first reported by Platformer and seen by NPR.

This included “the impersonation of world leaders, advertisers, brand partners, election officials and other high-profile figures”. The document warned that “motivated crooks/bad actors” would likely be willing to pay for the increased visibility offered by blue checks.

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

The blue check debacle has exacerbated Twitter’s business woes as more advertisers halted spending. Roberts says it’s no wonder big brands are suspicious — and not just of their posts appearing alongside toxic tweets.

“They fear being associated with Twitter as a brand,” she said.

Amid the chaos, Twitter suspended the rollout of the paid blue check. Musk said it would revive after Thanksgiving, with a few bodyguard.

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