Since last Friday, Anupam’s mother has been popping in and out of their room with a question: “Laptop chal raha hai kya?” — Is your laptop working?
As an Indian Twitter employee, Anupam was one of the 7,500 workers around the world waiting with bated breath to see whether they would be fired last week. It’s estimated that half of Twitter’s employees have now been laid off, losing access to their corporate accounts, many with absolutely no notice. “To her, if my laptop is working, then I’m not fired. But if my laptop stops working, then I’m fired,” Anupam said.
For now Anupam, who asked to remain anonymous fearing retribution from Twitter, is one of the few remaining company staffers in India. Local media reports that out of a 250-person workforce in the country before Musk’s acquisition, only about 70 people remain.
Rest of World has learned that the layoffs included the entire India communications team, half of the four-person public policy team that liaised with the government, and three out of a four-person product team in the country.
The India layoffs are just one part of Twitter’s massive staff reductions across its offices in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. According to nine current and former employees from several global offices, the layoffs have left the teams scared about the future of the company, and leave open questions about whether Twitter has the resources to maintain user safety on its platform.
“Regional teams operate in some of the places where Twitter users are most vulnerable to government pressure to remove content, to hand over user data, or otherwise comply with government requests. Those regional teams are really on the front lines fighting for Twitter’s global users,” said Kian Vesteinsson, a senior research analyst for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House. “The layoffs present a deeply concerning view of how Twitter will be able to protect the people around the world who use the platform. And quite frankly, the more we learn about the layoffs, the bleaker the picture gets.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
According to a former employee based in Southeast Asia, the company laid off practically all of its marketing and communication teams across the region. The source says that the company now employs just two marketing employees in Singapore and one marketing employee in Japan, Twitter’s second largest market in the world. The three employees represent the entirety of the company’s on-staff marketing team in the region.
Much like employees around the world, Twitter employees in Southeast Asia have limited insight into the layoffs, even days after the fact. “To my knowledge, not even Tweeps [a nickname used between Twitter colleagues] in the director’s level in the region knew who got to stay and who weren’t,” said one laid-off employee.
Those who were let go found out when they were cut off from all of Twitter’s systems — Google Suite, Slack, and their company laptops. “I suddenly got logged out while in front of my laptop, chatting with the team,” the source said. A formal notification came a few hours later through their personal email address.
Unlike U.S.-based employees, many laid-off staffers around the world have yet to receive further information about their severance. In an internal document — essentially a live FAQ document that was being updated on a regular basis — seen by Rest of World, the company said that if positions were eliminated, the severance package would be a lump sum of cash that includes at least two-months’ base salary, a prorated performance bonus plan compensation at target, a cash value of equity, and a cash contribution for health care continuation.
“We also comply with local employment laws and apply additional statutory severance for redundancies that may occur outside of the United States,” the document read.
But doubts linger whether the company will honor the full severance package, the impacted worker in Southeast Asia said. “That’s what ex-Tweeps globally are currently fighting for — to have the company at least honor the pre-acquisition agreement,” the employee told Rest of World. “People are afraid to talk because many of us think it will somehow impact our severance payment.”
Laid-off employees across Latin America told Rest of World that they’re avoiding speaking out because they hope to return to the company — or at least ensure they get their severance package, according to one former Twitter Mexico employee. “I’d prefer to protect myself as much as possible in order to get the best settlement package possible,” they said. “I have a lot to say, but right now, I prefer to take it easy because if you see this guy’s [Musk’s] track record, he’s just looking for these kinds of excuses to screw people over.”
It’s reported that prior to the layoffs, 50 employees worked from Twitter’s Mexico offices. Now, only a skeleton staff of just a few workers remains. In Brazil, it’s been reported that a team of 150 employees has been reduced to 20. Precise numbers are still unknown because some current employees were blocked from their work devices over the weekend only to be told later they were still employed by the company.
“Still Head of Agencies @TwitterMexico,” reads the Twitter bio of Almudena Blanco, after she suggested in a now-deleted Tweet last Friday that she’d been let go.
Around the world, once lively Slack channels, such as #Socialwatercooler, which has been covered in the media for its free-flowing memes and banter, are now quiet. One person described Twitter Slack as a “ghost town.”
“Twitter’s culture was very open. Everybody was very tolerant. You could literally make a meme about Jack. You can literally write ‘Fuck Jack’ on a public Slack, and that would be fine,” said Anupam, the Twitter India employee. “But ever since this guy [Elon Musk] took over, nobody’s willing to take that chance. Nobody’s actually writing anything on Slack.”
A number of employees told Rest of World that they were struck by the cruelty of the layoffs. There’s been no internal communication or reassurance from leadership about the future of the company. “We all are headless chickens,” Anupam said.
For Twitter’s Africa team, the timing of the layoffs couldn’t have been worse. The company had inaugurated its first office on the continent, located in Accra, Ghana, less than a week before. According to local reports, several members — possibly half — of the 20-person team have been laid off.
“Twitter’s Africa headquarters served as a promising sign that the company would invest in African users and in protecting their rights,” said Vesteinsson, the Freedom House researcher, noting that for years the company had failed to maintain dedicated staff resources in the region.
Tolu Ogunlesi, the special assistant to the Nigerian president on digital and new media, took to Twitter on Monday to express dissatisfaction with the Ghana layoffs, saying the move undid efforts to correct how the platform has “marginally” treated the African continent.
In 2021, moderation of a post by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari led to a nationwide ban of Twitter in the country that lasted until January 2022. Twitter’s regional team was responsible for staffing the Nigerian operations and also managing compliance relationships with the government, eventually leading to the platform’s reinstatement. “Twitter is still in the crosshairs of the Nigerian government, and the layoffs cast a real shadow over the question about whether access to the platform will be maintained in Nigeria,” said Vesteinsson.
The Africa team was not the only regional team that defended users against takedown requests and threatened bans by local governments. In July, Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, which is currently pending in the Karnataka High Court in Bengaluru, challenging its excessive blocking orders. It is one of the few social media platforms to take legal action, and the verdict of this case will set precedent on the regulation of online speech in India. The Indian government is aware of the Twitter layoffs, and India’s IT minister has condemned the manner in which they were conducted, stating that the company should have offered more time for transition.
Experts across regions worry that the mass layoffs of Twitter’s global staff could result not only in a loss of resources to defend freedom of speech but also exacerbate moderation issues. Grecia Macías, a lawyer working for digital rights advocacy group R3D, told Rest of World that after the recent layoffs, “most moderation will continue to be automated, but it will become tougher to hunt down problematic cases, such as those inciting violence, because the algorithm may not recognize it as such.”
When it comes to misinformation, regional Twitter teams have provided a level of cultural literacy and expertise on the political state of affairs that Silicon Valley employees cannot. “Now that we don’t have a robust African team [that] understands the nuances of what is happening locally, and can’t even check what is happening locally,” it risks more misinformation going unchecked, Kofi Yeboah, a Ghanian digital inclusion researcher told Rest of World. “Will Elon even bother?”
Twitter’s Mexico team, for example, has been crucial in identifying bots and trolls that spread hate or violent speech in the country. According to Alberto Escorcia, a journalist and social media researcher who worked closely with the platform’s local team, the team partnered with digital rights organizations to flag the accounts. They would send that information to Twitter’s U.S. headquarters, which made final decisions on whether to take down an account. “Mexico was the first filter,” he told Rest of World.
The layoffs did not hit only regional teams but also the decision-makers in Silicon Valley including employees who worked on global trust and safety, human rights, civic integrity, public policy, and algorithmic transparency. Shannon Raj Singh, former human rights counsel at Twitter, announced on Friday that the entire human rights department had been eliminated.
Twitter has been a platform used by dissidents, journalists, activists, and others around the world in repressive environments where speaking out is dangerous, according to David Kaye, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and the former U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “The human rights team, I think, helped frame what those problems were and basically tried to analyze for the whole company, particularly for policy and content moderation, what are the jurisdictions where our users might face harms and identified legal issues where individuals could be at risk,” he told Rest of World. Kaye credits the team with efforts to understand Twitter’s usage by Ukrainian and Russian users this year, in the face of conflict and rising censorship.
Meanwhile, in India, current staffers say they expect a rise in trolling, harassment, and bullying on the platform. They’re not optimistic that a $8 verified badge can solve the problems. “Platform health, misinformation, and user safety are major concerns now and, if not addressed on priority, could lead to legal issues as well,” Anupam told Rest of World. “Managing user experience, given the scale of the market, was already a mammoth task with an already lean team. Now, with more than half of the India workforce gone, Twitter is at a risk of becoming a free-for-all hellscape.”