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Twitter Employees Flee Amidst Regulatory and Content Issues

Elon Musk's decision to remove Twitter employees who don't share his vision has led to a number of departures among policy and safety-related staff around the world. This has raised concerns among regulators in key jurisdictions about the site's ability to continue meeting its compliance obligations.

November 24, 2022
10 minutes
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Elon Musk's decision to remove Twitter employees who don't share his vision has led to a number of departures among policy and safety-related staff around the world. This has raised concerns among regulators in key jurisdictions about the site's ability to continue meeting its compliance obligations.

There has been increased scrutiny of big tech companies in Europe, where officials have taken on a greater role in regulating them. In recent days, dozens of staff have left Twitter, from units such as government policy, legal affairs and the "trust and safety" division responsible for functions like drafting content-moderation rules. This has included people leaving from hubs such as Dublin, Singapore and San Francisco.

Many of the recent departures from Tesla follow CEO Elon Musk's ultimatum last week that staffers pledge to work long hours and be "extremely hardcore." Hundreds or more employees declined to commit to what Mr. Musk has called Twitter 2.0, and were locked out of company systems. This comes after layoffs in early November that cut roughly half of the company's staff.

The Irish Data Protection Commission said this week that it is asking Twitter whether it still has enough staff to comply with the European Union's privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company told the Irish data regulator last week that it does, but is still reviewing the impact of the staff departures, a spokesman for the Irish regulator said.

He said that Twitter has appointed an interim chief data protection officer, which is an obligation under the GDPR. This is after the departure of Damien Kieran, who had served in the role but left shortly after the first round of layoffs.

The French communications regulator has asked Twitter to explain by this week whether it has sufficient personnel on staff to moderate hate speech deemed illegal under French law. Under French law, Twitter could face legal orders and fines if it is found to be in violation of the law.

As Twitter holds talks with the EU about the bloc’s new social-media law, the Digital Services Act, a number of staff members have departed the company. This law, which is set to go into effect in the middle of next year, will impose stricter rules on larger platforms like Twitter. Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, is scheduled to meet with Twitter officials in Ireland on Thursday to discuss the company’s ability to comply with the law and its commitments on data protection and tackling online hate speech.

Mr. Musk has said that he would follow the laws of the countries where Twitter operates, and that the platform "cannot become a free-for-all hellscape." Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Late 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. This is a positive trend, as it shows that people are becoming less interested in hateful content.

"Congratulations to the Twitter team!" Mr. Musk wrote.

Some of the people who have left or declined to sign on to 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 compliance initiatives with regulations worldwide. Ms. McSweeney and the two Brussels employees declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses started bouncing back undeliverable in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based employees were told earlier this month that they were being laid off, according to social-media posts and people familiar with the matter.

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

Some of the departures at Twitter have occurred in teams that reported to Yoel Roth, who resigned 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 on policy and the platform’s rules, and that he had little use for those at the company who were advising him on those issues.

Ilana Rosenzweig, who worked as Twitter’s senior director and head of international trust and safety, has left the company, according to her LinkedIn profile. Based in Singapore, Ms. Rosenzweig led Twitter’s trust and safety teams across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, along with Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, according to her profile.

Keith Yet, a Twitter trust and safety worker based in Singapore, has decided not to agree to Twitter 2.0. In a post on LinkedIn Monday, Mr. Yet explained that he 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.

As more and more tech regulation is being introduced, particularly in Europe, companies are starting to leave the market. The Digital Services Act, which will come into effect in the middle of next year, will require companies like Twitter with more than 45 million users in the EU to maintain robust systems for removing content that European national governments deem to be illegal. The act also requires these companies to reduce risks associated with content that regulators consider harmful or hateful. It mandates regular outside audits of the companies’ processes and threatens noncompliance fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue.

Political leaders had warned that Mr. Musk’s Twitter account would have to comply with EU rules. “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules,” tweeted the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, hours after Mr. Musk completed his Twitter deal in late October. Breton’s tweet was in response to Musk’s own tweet proclaiming “the bird is free.

A spokesman for the European Commission said this week that it is in active contact with Twitter regarding the regulation of disinformation and illegal hate speech. However, the spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of Twitter's compliance plans.

Activists and researchers are also concerned that the departures could undermine Twitter’s ability to block state-backed information operations aimed at spreading propaganda and harassing adversaries. The wave of departures has led to 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 free speech.

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