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Twitter layoffs begin, sparking a lawsuit and backlash

A receptionist works Oct. 26 in the lobby of the building that houses the Twitter office in New York.
Mary Altaffer
/
AP
A receptionist works Oct. 26 in the lobby of the building that houses the Twitter office in New York.

Updated November 4, 2022 at 9:38 PM ET

Long-dreaded layoffs are finally happening at Twitter, which has been owned by billionaire Elon Musk for just over a week. They have sparked a lawsuit from employees and a call for advertisers to boycott.

About 50% of the staff was cut company-wide, according to a tweet from Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity, the division responsible for monitoring tweets for violence, hate and other banned material.

"Twitter's strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged," Musk tweeted Friday afternoon. He also said laid-off employees got three months of severance pay.

Jessica González, CEO of Free Press, which is part of the #StopToxicTwitter coalition, said she and leaders of more than 40 other groups met with Musk earlier this week.

"He promised to retain and enforce the election-integrity measures that were on Twitter's books before his takeover. With today's mass layoffs, it is clear that his actions betray his words," González said.

She worried Musk was dismantling Twitter's investment in fact checking, moderators and policy, which could allow more dangerous disinformation to spread, especially so close to Election Day.

"Twitter was already a hellscape before Musk took over. His actions in the past week will only make it worse," González said.

Roth tweeted that about 15% of his staff was laid off, with front-line moderation staff least affected.

"With early voting underway in the US, our efforts on election integrity — including harmful misinformation that can suppress the vote and combatting state-backed information operations — remain a top priority," he wrote on Twitter.

The #StopToxicTwitter coalition is now calling on advertisers to boycott Twitter. Several major advertisers have suspended advertising on Twitter since Musk took over last week, including General Motors and Pfizer. Nearly all of Twitter's revenue comes from ads.

Employees sue Musk over lack of notice for firings

A handful of employees moved quickly to file a class action lawsuit Thursday in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of Twitter workers.

The case was filed preemptively, so Twitter's workers wouldn't be taken advantage of and sign away their rights, said the lead attorney on the case, Shannon Liss-Riordan.

"There's a lot of concern going on around Twitter employees about what would happen today when reportedly half the workforce would be let go," she said.

The case alleges that Twitter is letting go of staff without adequate notice, in violation of California and federal employment law. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification act, or WARN, requires at least a 60-day notice before conducting mass layoffs.

Liss-Riordan said employees learned on Friday they would get three months' severance, which Musk later confirmed in a tweet.

Twitter employees use the platform to say goodbye with #LoveWhereYouWorked

Employees had been told to stay home on Friday and wait for an email about the future of their jobs. They tracked news from their colleagues under the hashtag #LoveWhereYouWorked.

They expressed gratitude to their teams and bosses, grieved for the company culture they enjoyed, and worried about colleagues who might lose health insurance or work visas.

Other Twitter users chimed in, calling Twitter employees "government stooges" and criticizing content moderation and policy decisions under the company's previous leadership.

Musk has long complained about the size of Twitter's staff, which was about 7,500. The company had ballooned in recent years, even as it struggled financially.

Musk fired many of Twitter's top executives last week, including its CEO, chief financial officer and top lawyers. He also dissolved its board.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Raquel Maria Dillon
Raquel Maria Dillon has worked on both sides of the country, on both sides of the mic, at Member stations and now as an editor with Morning Edition. She specializes in documenting wildfires and other national disasters, translating the intricacies of policy into plain English and explaining the implications of climate change.
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