Twitter lays off staff as Musk blames activists for ‘massive’ drop in ad revenue

  • Musk seeks to lay off about half of Twitter’s workforce
  • Employees file class action lawsuit against Twitter
  • Staff lose access to systems
  • Volkswagen removes ads

Nov 4 (Reuters) – Twitter Inc began a major round of layoffs on Friday, alerting employees to their status via email after barring entry to offices and cutting off workers’ access to internal systems overnight.

The move follows a week of chaos and uncertainty over the company’s future under new owner Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, who tweeted on Friday that the service was experiencing a “massive drop in revenue” as advertisers cut spending.

Musk blamed the losses on a coalition of civil rights groups that pressed major Twitter advertisers to take action if he failed to protect content moderation. The groups said on Friday they were increasing their pressure for demanding brands to pull their Twitter ads around the world.

“In an effort to put Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday,” Twitter said in an email to staff on Thursday evening announcing the cuts that occurred on Friday, which were seen by Reuters.

The company has remained silent on the extent of the cuts, although internal plans reviewed by Reuters this week indicated that Musk plans to cut about 3,700 Twitter employees, or about half of the workforce.

According to tweets from Twitter staff, staff who worked in engineering, communications, product, content curation and machine learning were among those affected by the layoffs.

Shannon Raj Singh, an attorney who was Twitter’s acting human rights officer, tweeted on Friday that the company’s entire human rights team had been cut.

Musk has promised to restore free speech while preventing Twitter from descending into “hell”. However, his assurances have not succeeded in calming the major advertisers, who have been expressing their apprehension about his takeover for months.

Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) has recommended that its brands suspend paid advertising on Twitter until further notice following the takeover of Musk, it said on Friday. His comments echoed similar remarks from other companies, including General Motors Co (GM.N) and General Mills Inc (GIS.N).

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, which is part of the civil rights coalition, said he knew of two other big advertisers who were about to announce they would pause ads on the platform.

Musk tweeted that his team made no changes to content moderation and did “everything we could” to appease the groups. “Extremely messed up! They (civil rights groups) are trying to destroy free speech in America.

Speaking at an investor conference in New York on Friday, Musk called the pressure from activists “an attack on the First Amendment.”

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ACCESS TO CUT SYSTEMS

Dozens of employees tweeted that they had lost access to work email and Slack channels before receiving an official notice, which they took as a sign that they had been terminated.

They tweeted blue hearts and saluted emojis expressing their support for each other, using the hashtags #OneTeam and #LoveWhereYouWorked, a past tense version of a slogan employees had used for years to celebrate the work culture of the company.

Twitter’s curation team, which is responsible for “highlighting and contextualizing the best events and stories happening on Twitter,” has been axed, employees said on the platform. The company’s communications team in India has also been fired, according to a Twitter Asia official.

A team that focused on researching how Twitter used algorithms, an issue that was a priority for Musk, was also eliminated, according to a tweet from a former senior Twitter executive.

Senior executives including Vice President of Engineering Arnaud Weber also bid farewell on Twitter on Friday: “Twitter still has a lot of potential unlocked but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said. tweeted.

Employees of Twitter Blue, the premium subscription service that Musk is bolstering, have also been laid off. An employee with the handle “SillyRobin” who had indicated that he had been terminated, tweeted Musk’s previous tweet saying that Twitter Blue would include “paywall bypass” for certain publishers.

“Just to be clear, he fired the team that was working on this,” the employee said.

Twitter security and integrity manager Yoel Roth appears to have kept his job, as has VP of product Keith Coleman, who launched a tool called Birdwatch allowing users to write notes on tweets that they identify as misleading.

Musk last week endorsed Roth, citing his “high integrity” after Roth was called out for tweets criticizing former US President Donald Trump years earlier. Musk also tweeted that he liked Birdwatch.

Roth and Coleman did not respond to requests for comment.

LOCKED DOORS

Twitter said in its email to employees that offices would be temporarily closed and access to badges suspended to “help ensure the safety of every employee as well as Twitter’s systems and customer data.”

The London and Dublin offices appeared deserted on Friday, with no employees in sight. At the London office, any evidence that Twitter had once occupied the building was erased.

A receptionist at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters said a few people broke in and worked on upper floors despite the stay-away advisory.

A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday against Twitter by its employees, who argued the company was carrying out mass layoffs without providing the required 60-day notice, in violation of federal and California laws.

The lawsuit also asked the federal court in San Francisco to issue an order prohibiting Twitter from soliciting terminated employees to sign documents without informing them of the pending case.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas, Katie Paul in Palo Alto, CA, and Paresh Dave in Oakland, CA. Scuffham Editing by Kenneth Li, Jason Neely and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Paresh Dave

Thomson Reuters

San Francisco Bay Area-based tech journalist covering Google and the rest of Alphabet Inc. Joined Reuters in 2017 after four years at the Los Angeles Times focusing on the local tech industry.

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