Twitter's mass layoffs are already misfiring

Some of the 3,700 employees who were laid off are required for crucial tasks
The devil's champion at Twitter.
The devil's champion at Twitter.
Photo: Noam Galai (Getty Images)
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Twitter is trying to undo its mass firing blunder.

After laying off more than 3,000 employees—almost half the company—via email last week, Twitter is offering jobs back to dozens of them, claiming that they were fired “by mistake,” Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. Its new owner and chief, Elon Musk, seems to have realized some of the people who were let go are crucial to building his vision of the app.

According to tech journalist Casey Newton, a message asking fired employees to return was posted on the company’s Slack and quickly spread online. Newton reported the message as reading: “sorry to @- everybody on the weekend but I wanted to pass along that we have the opportunity to ask folks that were left off if they will come back. I need to put together names and rationales by 4PM PST Sunday.”

At the end of his tumultuous first week at Twitter’s helm, Musk has become the posterboy of what not to do in tech firing and rehiring.

Twitter’s firing spree left a sour taste

Musk’s downsizing has been seen as abrupt and apathetic. He didn’t even signed off on the email that warned employees of the purge.

Before official notifications were sent out, some employees had begun realizing their fates as they got locked out of emails and Slack. Pregnant women and international talent on H-1B work visas were all axed without thought and guidance. Plus, Twitter’s offices were shut down for the occasion.

Musk stood by his decision, arguing “there is no choice.” Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey appeared to support Musk’s argument, but struck a more empathetic note by apologizing for growing the company “too quickly” and praising Twitter’s employees resilience in a note posted on the platform on Nov. 5.

Why would Twitter consider rehiring after layoffs?

The change of heart is likely driven by advertisers pressing pause because they’re worried about Twitter’s direction. “Since most of the teams fired today seemed to be related to policy and content moderation, we will see a spike in hate speech and trolling. That will lead to more advertisers to pull off putting more financial strain on Twitter,” an Intuit employee wrote on Blind, an anonymous Glassdoor-esque forum for verified employees.

Another motivation could be to avoid legal trouble, as a class action lawsuit against the company was already filed on Nov. 4. “Part of me is thinking that they will simply ask them to come back and work during the 60 day WARN notice and still lay them off with only 30 days of severance,” a Microsoft worker wrote on the anonymous work forum.

While the firing process has been humiliating, it’s likely some employees could take up the offer to return because people have bills to pay and households to run. But it still reflects poorly on the workplace and its culture, and if no assurances about job stability can be given, many might pass on the opportunity to return to Twitter just to be fired again in a few weeks’ time.

Twitter layoffs by the digits

7,500: Twitter headcount before Musk took over

3,700: Tweeps fired on Nov. 5

60 days: notice businesses with more than 100 full-time employees are required to give if they lay off a third or more of the staff, as per the labor department

15%: Trust & Safety team fired, as per Yoel Roth, head of safety & integrity at Twitter. He added that access to our internal tools for some, including those on his team, were restricted for “security reasons” but “access will be fully restored in the coming days”

50%: additional severance on top of the legal requirement Twitter is offering laid off employees

500%: jump in hate speech on Twitter within 12 hours of Musk taking over

4: big brands—General Motors, General Mills, Mondelez, Volkswagen—paused ads on Twitter after the change in leadership. Ads make up the bulk of the platform’s revenues, “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists,” Musk wrote on Twitter

877,000: users who’ve deactivated Twitter accounts after Musk’s reign began

479,000: Twitter accounts suspended since Musk took over—including comedian Kathy Griffin, who provocatively taunted the new Chief Twit by impersonating his account

Musk’s plans to change Twitter and make more money

The internal turmoil, driven by cutting costs, goes hand-in-hand with the external chaos in increasing revenues.

💬 In Musk’s misinformed opinion, “Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit.” To increase engagement, he is making the blue tick—a badge of authenticity and credibility—a content creation perk.

Starting Nov. 5, Musk was gearing up to offer the verification badge to users for $8 a month in the US. (In other countries, the price would be adjusted based on purchasing power.) The verified users would get priority in replies, mentions & search, ability to post long video and audio, half as many ads, and a paywall bypass for select publishers—all a bid to “give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators.”

The change has now been pushed to after the midterm elections, to avoid more drama.

🪓 Musk said he’d wait to form a “content moderation council” before making any change on the platform but is now going after impersonator accounts, banning all that don’t explicitly say they’re parody pages. Among the first to be suspended are the ones that mock the CEO himself—pretty ironic given that Musk promised “comedy is now legal” on Twitter the day after buying it

📝 Teased back in June, users will soon be able to attach long-form text, so they don’t have to upload notes’ screenshots as photos because of Twitter’s 280-character limit. How it’ll be a money-spinner is not entirely clear

🎥 Musk wants YouTubers to move to Twitter, but also wants to spend $1 billion less on the infrastructure that would host their videos

One more thing: Meta techies brace for more layoffs

Meta, which has so far been quietly firing people, is about to join the long list of tech companies cutting down on their workforces. Facebook’s parent company is expected to announce large-scale layoffs as early as Wednesday (Nov. 9), according to a Wall Street Journal report. The hope, and expectation, is that it won’t be as Marvel-villain style as Musk’s approach.

Quotable: The Elon Musk exception

“Most CEOs are not Elon and can’t implement it as they will get whacked by their boards if they try to do that. It’s incredibly difficult to get it right and carries a huge risk for their careers and comes across as a bad move for their personal reputation.” —a Microsoft employee, writing in a Blind post.

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