Twitter Exodus hits teams globally burdened with regulatory and content issues

Elon Musk’s move to purge Twitter Inc. employees who don’t embrace his vision has sparked a wave of departures among policy and security personnel around the world, raising questions from regulators in major jurisdictions about the ongoing compliance efforts of the site.

With staff departures in recent days, dozens of people have been scattered across departments such as government policy, legal affairs, and Twitter’s “trust and safety” division, which is responsible for functions such as setting rules for moderating content, according to current and former employees, social media posts, and emails sent to work addresses of people who worked at Twitter that have recently bounced back. They have departed from hubs such as Dublin, Singapore and San Francisco.

Many of the departures follow Mr Musk’s ultimatum late last week that staffers pledge to work long hours and be “extremely hardcore” or buy out. Hundreds or more employees refused to commit to what Mr. Musk has called Twitter 2.0, and were locked out of company systems. That comes after layoffs in early November saw about half of the company’s workforce cut off.

Twitter cut jobs for engineers late Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, people familiar with the matter said. The exact scope could not be immediately ascertained, although some estimate that dozens of workers were laid off.

Twitter sent laid-off engineers an email saying their code wasn’t satisfactory and offered four weeks of layoffs, some 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 asked Twitter if it still had enough staff to ensure compliance with European Union privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation or the GDPR. The company told the Irish data regulator last week that it had done so, but that it is still assessing the impact of the staff departure, a spokesman for the Irish regulator said.

He said Twitter appointed an interim data protection chief, a liability under the GDPR, following the departure of Damien Kieran, who had served in the position but left shortly after the first round of layoffs.

Meanwhile, the country’s communications regulator in France said it sent a letter last Friday asking Twitter to explain this week whether it has enough staff to moderate hate speech deemed illegal under French law – under which Twitter may face injunctions and fines.

The staff departure comes as Twitter is in talks with the EU over the bloc’s new social media law, dubbed the Digital Services Act, which will apply stricter rules to larger platforms like Twitter by mid-next year. Didier Reynders, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, will attend a previously scheduled meeting with Twitter executives in Ireland on Thursday. According to an EU official familiar with the trip, he intends to ask whether the company is able to comply with the law and meet its obligations on data protection and tackling hate speech online.

Věra Jourová, a vice-president of the EU’s executive, said she was concerned about reports of huge amounts of Twitter staff being laid off 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 would follow the laws of the countries where Twitter operates and it “cannot become a free hell”.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

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

Some of the people who either left or refused to join Twitter 2.0 appear to be Sinead McSweeney, the company’s Irish-based vice president of global policy and philanthropy, who oversees government relations and regulatory compliance initiatives worldwide. as well as the two remaining staffers in Twitter’s Brussels office.

Ms McSweeney and the two Brussels employees declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses have started coming back undeliverable in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based workers were told they were being fired earlier this month, according to social media posts and people familiar with the matter.

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


Photo:

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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

At least some of the departures occurred in teams reporting to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and security, who stepped down earlier this month. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Mr. Roth said he resigned because Mr. Musk had made it clear that he would only make decisions about the platform’s policies and rules, and that he was of little use to those in the making. company who advise him on these issues.

The team included Ilana Rosenzweig, who served as Twitter’s senior director and head of international trust and security. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has left the company. Ms. Rosenzweig, based in Singapore, led Twitter’s trust and security teams in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, along with Japan and other countries in Asia and the Pacific, according to her profile.

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

The departure comes amid a flurry of new technical regulations, particularly in Europe. The Digital Services Act, which by the middle of next year will require technology companies such as Twitter with more than 45 million users in the EU to maintain robust systems for taking down content that European national governments deem illegal.

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

The law also requires these companies to mitigate risks associated with content that regulators consider harmful or hateful. It mandates regular external audits of business processes and threatens fines for non-compliance of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue.

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,” EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted hours after Musk finalized his Twitter deal in late October, “the bird is free.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said this week it is in active contact with the company about the regulation and how to tackle disinformation and illegal hate speech, but declined to comment on the content of the EU’s compliance plans. Twitter.

Activists and researchers are also concerned that the departure 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 manner,” said Patrick Poon, an activist-turned-scholar at Japan’s Meiji University who analyzes freedom of expression.

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

Write to Sam Schechner at [email protected], Kim Mackrael at [email protected], and Newley Purnell at [email protected]

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