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Saturday, October 29, 2022

Elon Musk Is Said to Have Ordered Job Cuts Across Twitter The billionaire planned to begin layoffs as soon as Saturday, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Elon Musk Is Said to Have Ordered Job Cuts Across Twitter

The billionaire planned to begin layoffs as soon as Saturday, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco. Layoffs had been expected and feared by Twitter employees.
Constanza Hevia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk planned to begin laying off workers at Twitter as soon as Saturday, four people with knowledge of the matter said, with some managers being asked to draw up lists of employees to cut.

Mr. Musk, who completed a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter on Thursday, has ordered the cuts across the company, with some teams to be trimmed more than others, said three of the people, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation. The scale of the layoffs could not be determined. Twitter has around 7,500 employees.

Reports of layoffs at Twitter have swirled since Mr. Musk agreed to buy the company in April. The billionaire, who also leads the electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket company SpaceX, has told investors that he would take Twitter private, reduce its work force, roll back its content moderation rules and find new revenue streams.

The layoffs at Twitter would take place before a Nov. 1 date when employees were scheduled to receive stock grants as part of their compensation. Such grants typically represent a significant portion of employees’ pay. By laying off workers before that date, Mr. Musk may avoid paying the grants, though he is supposed to pay the employees cash in place of their stock under the terms of the merger agreement.

Twitter and a representative of Mr. Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

Ross Gerber, the chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management, said he was told by Jared Birchall, the head of Mr. Musk’s family office, that layoffs were coming at Twitter. “I was told to expect somewhere around 50 percent of people will be laid off,” he said.

Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter

A blockbuster deal. In April, Elon Musk made an unsolicited bid worth $44 billion for the social media platform, saying he wanted to turn Twitter into a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service. Here’s how the monthslong battle that followed played out:

Mr. Gerber said his firm had invested less than $1 million to help finance Mr. Musk’s Twitter acquisition. Mr. Birchall did not respond to an email for comment.

Mr. Musk, 51, has moved swiftly since assuming ownership of Twitter on Thursday. He arrived at the company’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday and began meeting employees. Late Thursday, he fired Twitter’s chief executive, chief financial officer and other executives. He has also made an appeal to advertisers, who provide the bulk of Twitter’s revenue, to tell them that the platform will be a respected advertising destination.

But Mr. Musk is taking time to evaluate other areas of Twitter, such as deciding what posts to keep up and take down on the site. While he initially said he wanted Twitter to be a freewheeling place for all kinds of commentary and would bring back banned users, including former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Musk on Friday made it clear that such changes would not happen immediately. Instead, he announced that he planned to form a council to handle content questions and would not immediately reinstate users who had been barred.

Mr. Musk also appears to be testing Twitter’s engineers. He and his team have assigned some of them projects to complete, three people with knowledge of the matter said. One project involved changes to Twitter’s login screen, they said. Some engineers worked late into the night on Friday to do the assignments, they said.

On Twitter, some users who accused the platform of muzzling them have been triumphant about the new ownership, while others have worried that the site will be overrun by hate speech and misinformation. Some users — such as the star producer Shonda Rhimes, the “This Is Us executive producer Ken Olin and the “Billions” showrunner Brian Koppelman — tweeted that they would leave the social media platform now that it was run by Mr. Musk.

Other Twitter users expressed concern over a surge of hate speech being reported on the platform since Mr. Musk took control. The National Basketball Association star LeBron James pointed to a report by the Network Contagion Research Institute, a private group that studies the spread of ideological content online, which said that the use of a racial slur on Twitter had increased by nearly 500 percent in the 12 hours after Mr. Musk’s deal was finalized.

“I don’t know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter,” Mr. James tweeted. “But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary.” 

On Saturday, Mr. Musk took to Twitter to discuss food. “Fresh baked bread & pastries are some of the great joys of life,” he tweeted.“

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Twitter had a new plan to fight extremism — then Elon arrived

Twitter had a new plan to fight extremism — then Elon arrived

“The company had an ambitious plan to fight extremism on the platform. So what happened to it?

Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge; Getty Imagesnone

It had been a long pandemic for Twitter’s research team. Tasked with solving some of the platform’s toughest problems around harassment, extremism, and disinformation, staffers absconded to Napa Valley in November 2021 for a company retreat. Despite a tumultuous change in leadership — Jack Dorsey had recently stepped down, appointing former chief technology officer Parag Agrawal to take his place — the group felt unified, even hopeful. After months of fighting bad actors online, employees took a moment to unwind. “We finally felt like we had a cohesive team,” one researcher says.

But at the goodbye brunch on the last day, people’s phones started pinging with alarming news: their boss, Dantley Davis, Twitter’s vice president of design, had been fired. Nobody knew it was coming. “It was like a movie,” says one attendee, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the company. “People started crying. I was just sitting there eating a croissant being like, ‘What’s up with the mood?’”

The news foreshadowed a downward spiral for the research organization. Although the group was used to reorganizations, a shakeup in the middle of an outing meant to bond the team together felt deeply symbolic.

The turmoil came to a head in April, when Elon Musk signed a deal to buy Twitter. Interviews with current and former employees, along with 70 pages of internal documents, suggest the chaos surrounding Musk’s acquisition pushed some teams to the breaking point, prompting numerous health researchers to quit, with some saying their colleagues were told to deprioritize projects to fight extremism in favor of focusing on bots and spam. The Musk deal might not even go through, but the effects on Twitter’s health efforts are already clear.

The health team, once tasked with fostering civil conversations on the famously uncivil platform, went from 15 full-time staffers down to two.

In 2019, Jack Dorsey asked a fundamental question about the platform he had helped create: “Can we actually measure the health of the conversation?”

Onstage at a TED conference in Vancouver, the beanie-clad CEO talked earnestly about investing in automated systems to proactively detect bad behavior and “take the burden off the victim completely.”

That summer, the company began staffing up a team of health researchers to carry out Dorsey’s mission. His talk convinced people who’d been working in academia, or for larger tech companies like Meta, to join Twitter, inspired by the prospect of working toward positive social change. 

“We did not prioritize identifying and mitigating against health and safety risks before launching Spaces.”

When the process worked as intended, health researchers helped Twitter think through potential abuses of new products. In 2020, Twitter was working on a tool called “unmention” that allows users to limit who can reply to their tweets. Researchers conducted a “red team” exercise, bringing together employees across the company to explore how the tool could be misused. Unmention could allow “powerful people [to] suppress dissent, discussion, and correction” and enable “harassers seeking contact with their targets [to] coerce targets to respond in person,” the red team wrote in an internal report. 

But the process wasn’t always so smooth. In 2021, former Twitter product chief Kayvon Beykpour announced the company’s number one priority was launching Spaces. (“It was a full on assault to kill Clubhouse,” one employee says.) The team assigned to the project worked overtime trying to get the feature out the door and didn’t schedule a red team exercise until August 10th — three months after launch. In July, the exercise was canceled. Spaces went live without a comprehensive assessment of the key risks, and white nationalists and terrorists flooded the platform, as The Washington Post reported

When Twitter eventually held a red team exercise for Spaces in January 2022, the report concluded: “We did not prioritize identifying and mitigating against health and safety risks before launching Spaces. This Red Team occurred too late. Despite critical investments in the first year and a half of building Spaces, we have been largely reactive to the real-world harms inflicted by malicious actors in Spaces. We have over relied on the general public to identify problems. We have launched products and features without adequate exploration of potential health implications.”

Earlier this year, Twitter walked back plans to monetize adult content after a red team found that the platform had failed to adequately address child sexual exploitation material. It was a problem researchers had been warning about for years. Employees said that Twitter executives have been aware of the problem but noted the company has not allocated the resources necessary to fix it. 

By late 2021, Twitter’s health researchers had spent years playing whack-a-mole with bad actors on the platform and decided to deploy a more sophisticated approach to dealing with harmful content. Externally, the company was regularly criticized for allowing dangerous groups to run amok. But internally, it sometimes felt like certain groups, like conspiracy theorists, were kicked off the platform too soon — before researchers could study their dynamics.

“The old approach was almost comically ineffective, and very reactive — a manual process of playing catch,” says a former employee, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the company. “Simply defining and catching ‘bad guys’ is a losing game.”

Instead, researchers hoped to identify people who were about to engage with harmful tweets, and nudge them toward healthier content using pop-up messages and interstitials. “The pilot will allow Twitter to identify and leverage behavioral — rather than content — signals and reach users at risk from harm with redirection to supportive content and services,” read an internal project brief, viewed by The Verge.

“Simply defining and catching ‘bad guys’ is a losing game.”

Twitter researchers partnered with Moonshot, a company that specializes in studying violent extremists, and kicked off a project called Redirect, modeled after work that Google and Facebook had done to curb the spread of harmful communities. At Google, this work had resulted in a sophisticated campaign to target people searching for extremist content with ads and YouTube videos aimed at debunking extremist messaging. Twitter planned to do the same. 

The goal was to move the company from simply reacting to bad accounts and posts to proactively guiding users toward better behavior.

“Twitter’s efforts to stem harmful groups tends to focus on defining these groups, designating them within a policy framework, detecting their reach (though group affiliation and behaviors), and suspending or deplatforming those within the cohort,” an internal project brief reads. “This project seeks, instead, to understand and address user behaviors upstream. Instead of focusing on designating bad accounts or content, we seek to understand how users find harmful group content in accounts and then to redirect those efforts.”

In phase one of the project, which began last year, researchers focused on three communities: racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism, anti-government or anti-authority violent extremism, and incels. In a case study about the boogaloo movement, a far-right group focused on inciting a second American Civil War, Moonshot identified 17 influencers who had high engagement within the community, using Twitter to share and spread their ideology. 

The report outlined possible points of intervention: one when someone tried to search for a boogaloo term, and another when they were about to engage with a piece of boogaloo content. “Moonshot’s approach to core community identification could highlight users moving towards this sphere of influence, prompting an interstitial message from Twitter,” the report says. 

The team also suggested adding a pop-up message before users could retweet extremist content. The interventions were meant to add friction to the process of finding and engaging with harmful tweets. Done right, it would blunt the impact of extremist content on Twitter, making it harder for the groups to recruit new followers. 

Before that work could be fully implemented, however, Musk reached an agreement with Twitter’s board to buy the company. Shortly afterward, employees who’d been leading the Moonshot partnership left. And in the months since Musk signed the deal, the health research team has all but evaporated, going from 15 staffers to just two. 

“Selling the company to Elon Musk was icing on the cake of a much longer track record of decisions by higher ups in the company showing safety wasn’t prioritized,” one employee says.

Multiple former researchers said the turmoil associated with Musk’s bid to purchase the company was a breaking point and led them to decide to pursue other work.

“The chaos of the deal made me realize that I didn’t want to work for a private, Musk-owned Twitter, but also that I didn’t want to work for a public, not-Musk-owned Twitter,” a former employee says. “I just no longer wanted to work for Twitter.”

Phase two of the Redirect project — which would have helped Twitter understand which interventions worked and how users were actually interacting with them — received funding. But by the time the money came through, there were no researchers available to oversee it. Some employees who remained were allegedly told to deprioritize Redirect in favor of projects related to bots and spam, which Musk has focused on in his attempt to back out of the deal. 

Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander declined to comment on the record.

One employee captured the team’s frustration in a tweet: “Completely uninterested in what jack or any other c-suiter has to say about this takeover,” the employee wrote, screenshotting an article about how much Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and former CEO Jack Dorsey stood to gain from the deal with Musk. “May you all fall down a very long flight of stairs.” (The employee declined to comment.) 

According to current workers, the tweet was reported as being a threat to a coworker, and the employee was fired.“

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Opinion | Should we take Elon Musk's Twitter layoff plans seriously? - The Washington Post

Opinion Just when you thought Musk’s Twitter foray couldn’t get wilder

Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Oct. 6. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
"Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Oct. 6. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)


By now, it should no longer be possible for Elon Musk to surprise me.

I am a veteran of Musk’s epic battles with reality. I lived through his fleeting musings about taking Tesla private. I survived his brief foray into bitcoin payments. And I have of course slogged through his months-long, on-again-off-again conquest of Twitter.

I should by now be beyond astonishment. Yet I am sitting here in slack-jawed wonder, contemplating reports that Musk plans to fire nearly 75 percent of Twitter’s employees.

What can he be thinking? Of course, some layoffs are customary when a new boss takes over. But 75 percent — this is not customary. Layoffs of that magnitude mean critical operations running at half strength. It means accidentally firing the only person who knew how to perform some core business function. It means shellshocked survivors wandering the empty halls, whispering forlornly to the ghosts of happier days.

As with so many things Musk-related, this is so over the top that I am unsure what to make of it. Could it be that Musk didn’t mean it? Musk says absurd things all the time, including wild things that SEC regulations specifically forbid him from saying, such as idly tweeting that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 a share. Could he have said it just to make the Twitter deal look better? When I asked a securities lawyer about that possibility, he replied, “In a presentation to potential big-ticket investors, it is reasonable to assume that his lawyers and compliance people were slightly more involved than with, say, his Tweets.”

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Besides, investors in deals of this size presumably have enough experience to understand what layoffs of that magnitude mean. So they’re not really a selling point unless you can actually explain how Twitter can function effectively with only a quarter of its current head count.

Okay, well, what about that, then? I mean, it can be hard to tell just how much you need every worker in a modern corporation. If you’re stamping out machine parts, your company knows almost exactly what it makes off your labors. But exactly how much does it increase profits when Twitter increases the number of content moderators from 10 to 20?

This fuzziness makes it easy for companies to bloat. Especially in Silicon Valley, where payrolls have been swollen by rivers of cash flowing in two directions — from advertisers to a handful of tech giants and from start-up investors hoping to fund the next behemoth. Complaints about Twitter’s overstaffing go back years.

That said, it does seems like someone would have noticed if three out of every four Twitter employees were actually adding no measurable value. I’m not saying it’s impossible. But if Musk cuts that many people and nothing goes wrong, it will be his most surprising act yet.

Alternatively, maybe Musk does plan these cuts, and he is wrong and is about to destroy the company. (Please, sigh thousands of self-hating Twitter addicts).

Fair enough, Musk acts wackily sometimes. But he is also running multiple companies successfully. He may be theatrical and impulsive, but I struggle to believe he has lost touch with reality.

A more plausible possibility is that Musk, who sometimes gets a little out over his skis before pulling back, did at one time think that he could just get rid of a large majority of his workers. But with more time to examine Twitter operations and think things through, he may have pared back his ambitions. This theory is compelling because it doesn’t require either Musk, or Twitter’s current management, to be oblivious to the facts on the ground. It only requires Musk to be who he is: prone to temporary fits of hyperbolic whimsy but also realistic enough to make cars and launch satellites and make money doing those things.

In this scenario, Musk is still going to make deep cuts because Musk is about to borrow a huge amount of money to finance this deal, and it will reportedly cost him almost $1.2 billion a year to service the debt. In a good year, the company’s free cash flow is maybe half that. Besides, even Twitter’s current management thinks the company is overstaffed; reportedly, it was planning to reduce head count by almost 25 percent.

Our hypothetical sane Musk undoubtedly wants to go further but also understands the risks of going too far and alienating customers or losing too many good employees to competitors. He will target the dross that inevitably accumulates in any large firm — the business practices that don’t make sense, the operations that don’t make money, and the workers who don’t make a good fit. However rash the initial offer for Twitter was, he will take the job of rebuilding it seriously and carve a leaner, more profitable firm out of the current bloated mess.

That’s certainly the best-case scenario — if our hypothetical Musk turns out to closely resemble the real one. Will he?

You know, maybe I’ve been at this too long, but if he did, I actually wouldn’t be all that surprised."

Opinion | Should we take Elon Musk's Twitter layoff plans seriously? - The Washington Post