Elon Musk expected to begin mass Twitter layoffs : NPR

NPR’s Leila Fadel speaks with Washington Post technology reporter Will Oremus about layoffs at Twitter and what the shake-up means for people who use the platform.



LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Employees at Twitter are getting emails today, letting them know whether or not they still have a job. Just a week after business tycoon Elon Musk acquired the social media platform, Twitter’s offices in San Francisco are closed, and none of the staff are allowed in. Joining us is Will Oremus. He’s a technology reporter at The Washington Post. Good morning, Will.

WILL OREMUS: Good morning.

FADEL: So on his first day, Elon Musk fired a number of top executives at Twitter. Others have quit. And reports have been circulating that as many as half of all the people who work for Twitter could be laid off. What does all this turmoil mean for users on the platform?

OREMUS: So Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion at a time when the market for digital advertising was much stronger and the economy in general was stronger. Analysts now think the company is probably worth about half that amount.

FADEL: OK.

OREMUS: But Musk now has massive debt to pay off. He has to pay off about a billion dollars a year in interest payments, and Twitter’s entire revenue last year was around $5 billion. So he’s making swift and dramatic cuts across the company as he tries to engineer an overhaul of Twitter’s business.

FADEL: So he needs these layoffs to make up for that loss.

OREMUS: He does. And he also needs new revenue streams, which is why we’ve seen Musk pushing very hard for the idea of people paying $8 a month to subscribe to something called Twitter Blue, which is going to be a premium version of the service that gives you certain perks like verification, that little blue checkmark next to your name when you tweet on Twitter.

FADEL: Which a lot of verified people have been scoffing at online recently. Now, we’ve seen multiple reports of a class-action lawsuit filed in San Francisco over these layoffs from employees. What do we know about the lawsuit and what other responses there have been from employees at Twitter to these layoffs?

OREMUS: The entire situation around the firings and the layoffs has been murky.

FADEL: OK.

OREMUS: It’s clear from our sources that Musk is trying to minimize the amount of severance he has to pay. There are reports that he is trying to fire the top executives for cause, which would deny them the so-called golden parachute payouts of tens of millions of dollars that they were contractually owed. As for the employees, we’re hearing that maybe they will be kept on payroll for a while, technically, as part of the – under California law. Details about severance are not clear yet. It’s all up in the air, and there will almost certainly be more lawsuits to come.

FADEL: Wow, so a lot that’s unclear right now. And, you know, when we saw – we just saw that Musk met with civil rights leaders and promised to keep guardrails up through the midterms on Tuesday over hate speech. And that’s something that came after an immediate spike in hate speech after Musk acquired the platform. So my question is, could these layoffs affect enforcing those rules, enforcing those guardrails?

OREMUS: Absolutely. Musk took over Twitter partly on the premise that he wanted to make it more of a platform for unfettered free speech…

FADEL: Right.

OREMUS: …Which sounds great. Everybody loves free speech. In practice, on social media, that tends to mean relaxing rules against things like hate speech, harassment, doxxing people’s private information. When – as soon as Musk took over the company, right-wing trolls were thrilled. They started using the N-word, trying to test the boundaries. Now, Twitter’s rules have not yet changed. Musk is trying to assure advertisers that the content policies that were in place before will remain in place for the time being. He has said that he will not yet reinstate people who have been banned like Donald Trump. He wants to start a content moderation council to review such decisions. But these cuts will absolutely have an impact on Twitter’s ability to enforce those policies that are already on the books.

FADEL: Washington Post technology reporter Will Oremus, thank you so much for your reporting.

OREMUS: Thanks for having me.

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