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‘Unfortunately, there is no choice’: Elon Musk defends axing Twitter staff

The social media company began widespread staff cuts around the world on Friday

Ted Hennessey
Saturday 05 November 2022 02:55 GMT
Musk said ‘we need to pay the bills somehow’
Musk said ‘we need to pay the bills somehow’ (PA)

Elon Musk has defended sacking half of Twitter's almost 8,000 workers, saying “unfortunately, there is no choice”.

Mr Musk insisted that the platform's commitment to moderation remained “absolutely unchanged” following reports that the company’s misinformation team was laid off.

He tweeted: “Regarding Twitter's reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4m (£3.5m) a day.

“Everyone exited was offered three months of severance, which is 50 per cent more than legally required.”

The social media company began widespread staff cuts around the world on Friday, with suggestions that as many as half of its more than 7,500 staff could be axed.

Its head of safety Yoel Roth later said jobs cuts have affected about 15 per cent of the trust and safety department, as opposed to approximately 50 per cent of cuts company-wide.

Mr Musk is thought to want to drastically reduce costs at the company after completing his $44bn (£39bn) takeover of the platform last week, since tweeting “we need to pay the bills somehow”.

The billionaire also tweeted a series of posts by head of safety Yoel Roth, which said: “Here are the facts about where Twitter’s Trust & Safety and moderation capacity stands today.

“While we said goodbye to incredibly talented friends and colleagues yesterday, our core moderation capabilities remain in place.

“Yesterday’s reduction in force affected approximately 15 per cent of our Trust & Safety organisation (as opposed to approximately 50 per cent cuts company-wide), with our front-line moderation staff experiencing the least impact.

“Last week, for security reasons, we restricted access to our internal tools for some users, including some members of my team. Most of the 2,000-plus content moderators working on front-line review were not impacted, and access will be fully restored in the coming days.”

Mr Musk, followed this with a tweet saying: “Again, to be crystal clear, Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged.

“In fact, we have actually seen hateful speech at times this week decline below our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.”

He had earlier accused “activist groups” of “pressuring” advertisers into leaving the social media giant and causing a drop in revenue.

The Tesla owner also replied to posts and memes from users about advertising, in one saying: “Twitter will not censor accurate information about anything.”

Online safety groups and campaigners have expressed concerns about Mr Musk’s plans to allow more free speech on the site and possibly reverse bans given to controversial figures, including President Donald Trump.

There have been reports that some advertisers have been concerned about the possibility of such figures returning and appearing alongside their adverts on the site.

It came as union Prospect, which represents thousands of technology workers, including Twitter employees in the UK, said in a letter to business secretary Grant Shapps that the firm had acted “in an unacceptable way”.

The letter said: “It is totally unacceptable that anyone should be treated in such a manner. I hope that you will agree with me that the government must make it clear to Twitter’s new owners a digital P&O would not be acceptable and that no-one is above the law in the UK, including big tech barons.”

In the early hours of the morning UK, like 2am, I noticed my work laptop was remotely wiped and my email access and Slack access were both revoked

Simon Balmain, Twitter employee

Simon Deakin, a professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, said if 100 or more employees are sacked within a period of 90 days, the business secretary must be notified 45 days before the first dismissal.

Where there are more than 20 but fewer than 100 potential losses, the period is 30 days.

Professor Deakin said: “If there’s no effective notice given here then there could be a fine, so the employer or director could be fined. And the fine currently doesn’t have a limit and it’s a criminal offence.

“If they are making 100 workers redundant then there’s a possibility of a criminal offence being committed, we don’t know the full story, what is the establishment and maybe they have given notice.”

An internal email sent to staff on the job cuts on Friday said the action to cut jobs was “unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward”.

Staff have been told that everyone received an email by 0900 PST (1600 GMT) on Friday, with those who are affected by the cuts set to receive the message on their personal email address rather than the one associated with their work.

Staff have since taken to Twitter to confirm they are leaving the company, with some revealing they have been logged out of their work laptops and internal messaging systems.

Twitter employee Simon Balmain told Sky News: “Late last night we all received an email saying there is going to be a large reduction in headcount and the email stated that if we would be laid off, it would go to our personal email and if not to our work email.

“And it was about an hour after that, this is in the early hours of the morning UK, like 2am, that I noticed my work laptop was remotely wiped and my email access and Slack access were both revoked.

“And then I got in touch with a few colleagues, and it seemed a lot of people were seeing the same thing.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We are watching what is happening at Twitter with interest.

“While we cannot comment on the individual cases, we expect companies to treat their employees fairly and our thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs.

“There are clear rules companies must follow when making large numbers of redundancies which includes consulting with staff and notifying the Redundancy Payments Service.”

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