Elon Musk just axed key Twitter teams like human rights, accessibility, AI ethics and curation
Elon Musk is wasting no time making extremely deep cuts at Twitter, calving off many teams doing essential work at the company in the process. News of layoffs swept the platform on Friday, showing that Twitter's billionaire owner is painting in broad strokes when it comes to trimming down the team by half.
The same day that Musk complained about supposed activists impacting Twitter's ad revenue, he cut some departments outright — actions that are sure to make advertisers all the more skittish about Musk's ability to steer a ship with a skeleton crew. As he's only owned the company for a single week, it's impossible to imagine that such sweeping layoffs won't lead to dysfunction at Twitter, from the content moderation policies sure to prove crucial for Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections to product teams keeping the platform humming.
Former Twitter employees affected by the layoffs describe a chaotic situation with little official communication beyond abruptly receiving a termination letter or seeing their access to internal tools like Slack or databases suddenly revoked. In the information vacuum created by Musk's disorganized and sudden approach to the layoffs, some employees aren't sure if their colleagues are still employed or if their teams continue to exist at all.
The cuts appear to be as broad as they were deep, affecting everything from Twitter's trust and safety teams that handle content moderation to its marketing department. Here are some of the teams either eliminated outright or hit hard by the layoffs, and what the new incarnation of Twitter will be losing in the process.
Former Twitter Human Rights Counsel Shannon Raj Singh shared news that the company's human rights team was eliminated Friday. The team worked to protect users facing human rights violations around the globe, including activists, journalists and people affected by conflicts like the war in Ukraine.
Yesterday was my last day at Twitter: the entire Human Rights team has been cut from the company.
I am enormously proud of the work we did to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, to protect those at-risk in global conflicts & crises including Ethiopia,
— Shannon Raj Singh (@ShannonRSingh) November 4, 2022
Twitter's now former head of accessibility confirmed that the company cut the accessibility experience team, which improved the product for people with disabilities. The team appears to have had a lot still in the works before it was disbanded.
So, the Accessibility Experience Team at Twitter is no longer. We had so much more to do, but we worked hard! There aren't very many people that have had the opportunity to make such an important global platform like Twitter accessible, but we understood the mission.
— Gerard K. Cohen (@gerardkcohen) November 4, 2022
- Image description reminder
- ALT badge copy/paste for mobile
- Improved image description education
- Setting to disable keyboard shortcuts on Web
- Closed captions toggle
- Anniversary images missing alt text
— Twitter Accessibility (@TwitterA11y) November 1, 2022
It's not yet clear what parts of Twitter's communications team have been cut outright, but the cuts are deep enough that many prominent comms employees at the company, including many contacts that TechCrunch has spoken with over the years, were affected. Musk signaled his distaste for internal communications immediately after taking over the company, conveying little information to Twitter employees about the changes, so it's no surprise that the internal communications team is affected as well, including the head of internal comms.
Twitter is so special. After 4 yrs, I’m leaving with the fullest 💙, experiences I never imagined, and unbreakable bonds with so many Tweeps. My head is held high, knowing I gave it my absolute all. @TwitterComms: We have so much to be proud of. Time to fly even higher! #OneTeam pic.twitter.com/5tVUP575A6
— Julie Steele (@juliezsteele) November 4, 2022
Many don’t know all the details that went into internal comms this year, but I do. I also know that the people at Twitter embody #OneTeam . No one goes harder than @TwitterComms. Ultimately, I get to leave with the best people alongside me. Cheers
— Colette Zakarian (@colzakarian) November 4, 2022
Machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability
Musk dissolved a team known internally as META, which was well-respected for its exploratory work in ethical AI and algorithmic transparency. Rumman Chowdhury, the team's director, was eliminated, along with the team's engineers and other members.
Yep, the team is gone. The team that was researching and pushing for algorithmic transparency and algorithmic choice. The team that was studying algorithmic amplification. The team that was inventing and building ethical AI tooling and methodologies. All that is gone.
— Joan Deitchman (@JoanDeitchman) November 4, 2022
Some of the layoffs make sense, given the things Musk apparently has little regard for (human rights and accessibility, alarming!), but Twitter's new owner apparently also made cuts to teams that seemed poised to help him extract more value from the company. The curation team curated the moments tab, programmed the trending topics section, provided context on those topics and also handled live events — many of the things Twitter does best. The team also worked to fight misinformation on the platform — a serious and consequential concerns that Musk has already made worse in less than seven days on the job.
So Twitter’s Curation team is no more.
This site 👇 was recently launched to tell the world about our work. Give it a look for two reasons:
1) to see how it will impact your experience
2) if you want to hire the people behind it, get in touch via DMhttps://t.co/vGdlDSYh8r
— Andrew Haigh (@AndrewHaigh) November 4, 2022
Looks like Elon Musk fired the entire curation team.
These were the folks who tackled misinfo, contextualized conversations via the 'Explore' page, and helped make Twitter an unmatched source for breaking news.
This will make Twitter noisier, more dangerous & less interesting
— Richie Assaly (@rdassaly) November 4, 2022
Politico reports that half of the company's public policy team was let go, including Michele Austin, the former director of public policy and elections in Canada and the U.S. who was actively working on the U.S. midterms. Those cuts reportedly also included Twitter team members who work to verify the accounts of political figures.
I helped lead the 2022 US midterms on platform. Same with #Elxn44 in Canada. I was responsible for social impact work in both countries. Twitter gave me amazing opportunities.
— Michele Austin (@_MicheleAustin) November 4, 2022
This story is developing...