Twitter Exodus affects teams tasked with regulatory, content issues globally

Elon Musk’s move to purge Twitter Inc. employees who do not embrace his vision has led to a wave of employee departures on policy and security issues around the world, prompting 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, social media posts media and emails sent to 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 pledge to work long hours and be “extremely hardcore” or take a buyout. A hundred or more employees refused to commit to what Mr. Musk has called Twitter 2.0 and were locked out of the company’s systems. It comes after layoffs in early November that reduced about half of the company’s staff.

The Irish Data Protection Commission said this week it was asking Twitter whether it still had sufficient staff to ensure compliance with EU privacy laws, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The company last week told the Irish data protection regulator it did so but is still reviewing the impact of 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 authority said it sent a letter last Friday asking Twitter to explain this week whether it has enough staff on staff to moderate hate speech considered illegal under French law — after which Twitter can get legal orders and fines.

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

Věra Jourová, a vice-president of the EU’s executive arm, said she was concerned by reports of the firing of huge numbers of Twitter employees in Europe. “European laws continue to apply to Twitter, regardless of who is the owner,” she said.

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Mr. Musk has said he would 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 on Wednesday, Mr Musk tweeted that the number of views of tweets he described as “hate speech” had fallen below levels seen 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 declined to log into 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 the Twitter office in Brussels.

Mrs. McSweeney and the two Brussels employees declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses began returning undeliverable in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based employees were told they were being fired earlier this month, 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 publicly wrote 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 that reported to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, who stepped down earlier this month. In an op-ed for the New York Times,

Mr. Roth said he resigned because Mr. Musk made it clear that he alone would make decisions about policy and the rules of the platform, and that he had little need for those at the company to advise 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, Ms. Rosenzweig leads 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 accept Twitter 2.0,” Keith Yet, a Twitter trust and security officer 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. Attempt 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 governments deem to be illegal.

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

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 the European Union’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, hours after Mr. Musk ended 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 the regulation and tackling of 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 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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