Twitter on Friday laid off employees in departments across the company, in a severe round of cost cutting that could potentially upend how one of the world’s most influential platforms operates one week after it was acquired by billionaire Elon Musk.
Twitter workers began tweeting on Thursday night, and Friday morning. Many of them had previously been blocked from their company emails before they were notified of the layoff. Others also posted blue hearts and salute emoticons to indicate that they were not at work.
Twitter employees in departments such as ethical AI, marketing, communication and search had reported being let go by Friday morning. Employee posts also revealed that members of the curation group, who help to elevate credible information on Twitter, such as about elections, had been laid off.
“Just got remotely logged out of my work laptop and removed from Slack,” one Twitter employee said on the platform. “So sad it had to end this way.”
Another employee said that she and other members of Twitter’s human rights team had been laid off. The employee added that she is proud of the team’s work “to protect those at-risk in global conflicts & crises including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, and to defend the needs of those particularly at risk of human rights abuse by virtue of their social media presence, such as journalists & human rights defenders.”
Simon Balmain, a former Twitter senior community manager who was laid off Friday, said in an interview with SME that he lost access to Slack, email and other internal systems around 8 hours before receiving an email Friday morning officially notifying him that he’d been fired. He added that the lay off email “still didn’t provide any details really” about why he’d been let go.
“The waves of annoyance and frustration and all that stuff are absolutely mitigated by the extreme solidarity we’ve seen from people that are in the company, people that are in the same position, people that left the company in years gone by,” Balmain said. “It’s like a giant support network, which has been absolutely amazing.”
SME Friday was informed by a Twitter worker who had been laid off that some employees are happy to be let go. “For me, being safe would’ve been punishment,” the employee said.
On Friday, Musk appeared at an investor conference for a casual interview. He spoke out about his plans to make electric cars cheaper and about the possibility of him going to Mars. During the interview, Musk said of Twitter, “I tried to get out of the deal,” but then added, “I think there is a tremendous amount of potential … and I think it could be one of the most valuable companies in the world.”
The interviewer said that Musk had laid off “half of Twitter” and Musk nodded, although he did not comment on the remark. He appeared to frame the layoffs as necessary for a company that, like other social media firms, was experiencing “revenue challenges” prior to his acquisition as advertisers rethink spending amid recession fears.
Musk also said “a number of major advertisers have stopped spending on Twitter” in the days since the acquisition was completed.
It’s unclear exactly how many Twitter employees have been or will be laid off. Twitter had about 7,500 workers prior to Musk’s takeover. In recent days, there have been reports that Twitter could cut 25% to 50% of its staff as Musk rethinks how the platform operates and attempts to improve the company’s bottom line after taking out significant debt financing to fund his $44 billion acquisition.
An email was sent to employees Thursday night advising them that they would be receiving a notification by noon on Friday. ET Friday, which informs them about their employment status.
“If your employment is not impacted, you will receive a notification via your Twitter email,” a copy of the email obtained by SME said. “If your employment is impacted, you will receive a notification with next steps via your personal email.”
The email added that “to help ensure the safety” of employees and Twitter’s systems, the company’s offices “will be temporarily closed and all badge access will be suspended.”
The email concluded acknowledging that it will be “an incredibly challenging experience to go through” for the workforce.
Twitter workers filed a lawsuit Thursday night alleging that Twitter violated the California and federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts (WARN Acts) following the layoff of some employees.
The WARN Act requires that an employer with more than 100 employees must provide 60 days’ advanced written notice prior to a mass layoff “affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment.”
“Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, has made clear that he believes complying with federal labor laws is ‘trivial,’” Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement to SME. “We have filed this federal complaint to ensure that Twitter be held accountable to our laws and to prevent Twitter employees from unknowingly signing away their rights.”
California’s Employment Development Department confirmed to SME that no WARN notices had been filed by Twitter as of midday Friday.
SME also received inquiries from Twitter employees asking if their terminations were unlawfully discriminatory.
“Former Twitter employees have reached out to us regarding their layoffs and their circumstances, and so we’re looking at all the issues — beyond appropriate notice — and to make sure the employee wasn’t laid off due to their membership in a protected category,” said Chauniqua Young, a partner at the law firm Outten & Golden.
Beyond the potential for lawsuits arising from the layoffs, other legal experts say Musk’s handling of the cuts may well create further problems for him down the road — whether in terms of attracting future talent or by keeping remaining workers satisfied.
“Once you treat people like this, they remember that,” said Terri Gerstein, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and Economic Policy Institute. “Of the people remaining, it is a certainty that none of them feel secure in their job, and I would be shocked if the remaining people were not updating their resumes right now or talking with each other about starting a union.”
According to two sources, Musk fired Parag Agrawal (CEO) and two executives as his first act at Twitter.
The company’s C-suite seems to have nearly cleared out in the week that has passed since Musk purchased it. There were a variety of resignations and firings. Musk has also dissolved Twitter’s former board of directors.
Staffers shared their emotions with #LoveWhereYouWorked on Friday. This is a past-tense variation of a phrase that was used often by Twitter employees.
Shawn Nottingham, Brian Fung, and Shawn Nottingham were part of this report