Twitter Exodus hits teams tasked with regulatory and content issues globally

Twitter Exodus hits teams tasked with regulatory and content issues globally

Twitter Exodus hits teams tasked with regulatory and content issues globally

Elon Musk’s move to purge Twitter Inc. employees who do not embrace his vision has sparked a wave of policy and security staff departures around the world and raised questions from regulators in key jurisdictions about the site’s continued compliance efforts.

Staff departures in recent days include dozens of people spread across units such as government policy, legal affairs and Twitter’s “trust and safety” department, which is responsible for functions such as drafting rules for content moderation, according to current and former employees, posts on social media media and emails sent to the work addresses of people who had worked at Twitter who recently returned. They have traveled from hubs including Dublin, Singapore and San Francisco.

Many of the departures follow Mr. Musk’s ultimatum late last week that employees promise to work long hours and be “extremely hardcore” or face a buyout. A hundred or more employees refused to commit to what Mr. Musk has called Twitter 2.0, and were banned from the company’s systems. It comes after layoffs in early November that cut roughly half of the company’s workforce.

Twitter implemented a new round of job cuts affecting engineers late Wednesday, ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday, people familiar with the matter said. The exact extent could not be immediately learned, although some of the people estimated that dozens of employees were let go.

Twitter sent fired engineers an email saying their code was unsatisfactory and giving them four weeks of back pay, some of the people said. Some other engineers received an email warning them to improve their performance to keep their jobs, the people said.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission said this week it was asking Twitter whether it still had enough staff to ensure compliance with EU privacy laws, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The company last week told the Irish data regulator it was doing so but is still assessing the impact of the staff departures, a spokesman for the Irish regulator said.

He said Twitter has appointed an interim chief data protection officer, an obligation under the GDPR, following the departure of Damien Kieran, who had served in the role but left shortly after the first round of redundancies.

In France, meanwhile, the country’s communications regulator said it sent a letter last Friday asking Twitter to explain by this week whether it has enough staff on staff to moderate hate speech considered illegal under French law — under which Twitter can get legal orders and fines.

The staff departures come as Twitter holds talks with the European Union about the bloc’s new social media law, called the Digital Services Act, which will apply stricter rules to larger platforms such as Twitter by the middle of next year. Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, is scheduled to attend a previously scheduled meeting with Twitter executives in Ireland on Thursday. He plans to question the company’s ability to comply with the law and meet obligations on data protection and tackling online hate speech, according to an EU official familiar with the trip.

Věra Jourová, a vice-president of the European Union’s executive arm, said she was concerned by reports of massive layoffs of Twitter staff in Europe. “European laws continue to apply to Twitter, regardless of who owns it,” she said.

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Mr Musk has said he will follow the laws of the countries where Twitter operates and that it “cannot be a free-for-all hell”.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Late Wednesday, Musk tweeted that the number of views of tweets he described as “hate speech” had fallen below levels seen before a surge in such views in late October.
“Congratulations to the Twitter team!” Mr. Musk wrote.

Some of the people who either left or refused to sign on to Twitter 2.0 appear to include Sinead McSweeney, the company’s Ireland-based vice president of global policy and philanthropy, who led government relations and regulatory compliance initiatives worldwide, as well as the two remaining employees at Twitter’s Brussels office.

Mrs. McSweeney and the two Brussels employees declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses began returning undelivered in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based employees were told earlier this month they were being laid off, according to social media and people familiar with the matter.

Twenty Air Street, London, home of Twitter’s UK office.


Photo:

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Damien Viel, Twitter’s country manager for France, was also among a wave of employees who went public this week saying they had left the company. He declined to comment when reached by the Journal.

At least some of the departures occurred in teams that reported to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and security, who resigned earlier this month. In an article for the New York Times, Roth said he resigned because Musk made it clear that he alone would make decisions about policy and the platform’s rules, and that he had little use for those at the company who were advising him on these matters.

The team included Ilana Rosenzweig, who worked as Twitter’s senior director and head of international trust and security. She has left the company, according to her LinkedIn profile. Based in Singapore, Rosenzweig led Twitter’s trust and security team across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, along with Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, according to her profile.

“I decided not to join Twitter 2.0,” Keith Yet, a trust and security worker at Twitter based in Singapore, wrote on LinkedIn on Monday. Mr. Yet worked on child sexual exploitation issues and handling legal escalations from Japan and other countries, according to his LinkedIn profile. Attempts to reach Ms. Rosenzweig and Mr. Yet were unsuccessful.

The departures come amid a wave of new technology regulation, particularly in Europe. The Digital Services Act, which by the middle of next year will require tech companies like Twitter with more than 45 million users in the EU to maintain robust systems to remove content that European national authorities deem illegal.

The termination notices keep coming. As interest rates continue to rise and earnings fall, WSJ’s Dion Rabouin explains why we can expect to see a bigger wave of layoffs in the near future. Illustration: Elizabeth Smelov

The law also requires these companies to reduce risks associated with content that regulators deem harmful or hateful. It mandates regular external audits of the companies’ processes and threatens fines of up to 6% of the company’s annual revenues.

Political leaders had warned that Mr Musk’s Twitter would have to comply with EU rules. “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules,” tweeted EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, hours after Musk completed his Twitter deal in late October, tweeting, “the bird is free.”

A spokesman for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said this week that it was in active contact with the company regarding its regulation and tackling disinformation and illegal hate speech, but declined to comment on the content of Twitter’s compliance plans.

Activists and researchers also worry that the departures could undermine Twitter’s ability to block state-sponsored information operations aimed at spreading propaganda and harassing opponents. The wave of departures “raises questions about how Twitter will moderate tweets and comments in a professional and neutral way,” said Patrick Poon, an activist turned researcher at Japan’s Meiji University who analyzes free speech.

—Liza Lin, Alexa Corse, and Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.

Write to Sam Schechner at Sam.Schechner@wsj.com, Kim Mackrael at kim.mackrael@wsj.com and Newley Purnell at newley.purnell@wsj.com

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