The cuts appeared to affect many people whose jobs were to keep Twitter from being overwhelmed by prohibited content such as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, according to one current and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts.
Mass layoffs at Twitter on Friday battered the teams primarily responsible for keeping the platform free of misinformation, potentially hobbling the company’s capabilities four days before the end of voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections, one current and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts told NBC News, five of whom had been recently laid off.
Two former Twitter employees and one current employee warned the layoffs could bring chaos around the elections, as they hit especially hard on teams responsible for the curation of trending topics and for the engineering side of “user health,” which works on content moderation and site integrity. The seven people asked to withhold their names out of worry over professional retribution and because they weren’t authorized to speak for the company.
CEO Elon Musk, who’s facing sizable future debt payments and declining revenue at Twitter, said the cuts were needed to ensure the health of the company’s long-term finances a week after he bought it for $44 billion.
The cuts appeared to affect many people whose jobs were to keep Twitter from becoming overwhelmed by prohibited content, such as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, the seven sources said.
Twitter has not announced any moderation policy changes, and earlier this week, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, said the company was remaining vigilant against attempts to manipulate conversations about the midterms. Musk has said the company won’t allow anyone back on Twitter who had been previously banned for at least a few more weeks.
But Gita Johar, a Columbia University business professor who has studied misinformation on Twitter, said the job cuts risk turning the site into a “free-for-all with rumors, conspiracy theories and falsehoods taking hold on the platform and in people’s imagination.”
Twitter had not released public figures about which teams had been cut the most, but the layoffs were widespread. In an exchange at an investor conference Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team had laid off half the company’s workforce, according to CNBC.
“Elon will own a company without employees,” a source inside Twitter told CNBC.
An email to Twitter’s public relations team was not immediately returned Friday. Some members of the team tweeted that they had been laid off.
Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, tweeted early Friday evening: "While we said goodbye to incredibly talented friends and colleagues yesterday, our core moderation capabilities remain in place."
He added that layoffs affected about 15% of the company's trust and safety teams with "front-line moderation staff experiencing the least impact."
He also tweeted that "hateful speech at times this week decline *below* our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press."
Twitter’s curation team, which had a variety of roles across the platform, including coordinating the detection and publishing of moments meant to debunk misinformation, appears to be gone, one source said. The team had recently published an explainer about how it tried to keep information accurate and impartial.