Elon Musk has reportedly gutted Twitter’s external contractor teams, whose role was to ensure the platform was free of misinformation and hate, according to multiple US media reports.

On Saturday Platformer’s Casey Newton first reported the layoffs. On Sunday he noted that about 4,400 of Twitter’s 5,500 contract workers in the US and abroad had been let go, without warning or notification.

The gutting of Twitter’s external contractor teams was independently confirmed by CNBC, Insider and Axios – all of which confirmed significant layoffs.

Content moderation cuts

It comes after Elon Musk axed 50 percent of Twitter’s internal workforce, thought to be 3,700 of its 7,500 workforce, dissolved its board of directors, and fired senior management – prompting a mass exodus of leading executives from the platform.

Now the gutting of Twitter’s external content moderation teams was also confirmed by a contractor who reacted to Casey Newton’s report.

Newton said that contractors were stunned at the move, after there was no warning or prior notifications.

“Contractors aren’t being notified at all, they’re just losing access to Slack and email,” he tweeted. “Managers figured it out when their workers just disappeared from the system.

Another contractor affected by the cuts, the data scientist Melissa Ingle, said she learned of her fate on Saturday evening when her access to Twitter’s systems was suddenly cut off.

“Laid off from Twitter on a Saturday evening. No explanation, just all access removed. Happy holidays, everyone!” she tweeted.

FTC concern

This gutting of Twitter’s content moderation teams, if true, will added to the concern of US federal agencies over Elon Musk’s chaotic handling of his Twitter takeover.

Besides the mass firings, Musk also instituted a botched plan to have users pay $8 for a “verified” account, with no procedure in place for actual verification.

Last week the Federal Trade Commission issued a very public statement, stating it was closely watching Twitter’s moves under Elon Musk with “deep concern”, after the three privacy and compliance officers quit.

Those resignations potentially put Twitter at risk of violating regulatory orders.

It should be remembered that the FTC had reached a settlement with Twitter in May this year, after the platform was caught using personal user info to target ads.

That May FTC settlement had built on a 2011 agreement binding the company to install reasonable privacy safeguards and be accountable for an information security program.

In May 2022, when Twitter agreed to pay a $150 million penalty for allegedly deceiving users about how their phone numbers would be used to sell ads, the FTC gained new concessions. Under that order, Twitter reportedly agreed to install an enhanced privacy program and information security program with specific requirements.

If Twitter doesn’t comply with that agreement, the FTC can issue fines reaching into the billions of dollars, according to a lawyer’s note to staff.

Meanwhile Elon Musk has reacted to advertisers and big brand names pulling or pausing their advertising spend with Twitter, and it was revealed that Elon Musk’s SpaceX just ordered one of the larger advertising packages available from Twitter,

The campaign, according to CNBC, is to promote the SpaceX satellite internet service, Starlink, in Australia and Spain.

Firing veteran engineers

Meanwhile Elon Musk at the weekend also engaged in a very public tweet spat with a veteran Twitter engineer who publicly disagreed with him.

It began when Musk tweeted at the the weekend that he wanted to “apologise for Twitter being super slow in many countries.”

Musk blamed the Twitter app “doing >1000 poorly batched RPCs just to render a home timeline!”

A few hours later veteran Twitter engineer Eric Frohnhoefer tweeted back “I have spent ~6yrs working on Twitter for Android and can say this is wrong.”

According to Forbes, the two men got in a back-and-forth in a public Twitter thread over technical issues concerning the Android app’s performance, with Musk at one point asking on Sunday afternoon: “Twitter is super slow on Android. What have you done to fix that?”

Elon Musk later tweeted that Frohnhoefer was fired, and Frohnhoefer responded with a saluting emoji, Forbes reported. However Musk’s tweet later seems to have been taken down.

Frohnhoefer however confirmed that he had been locked out of Twitter’s systems and he changed his profile for formerly at Twitter.

Frohnhoefer was quoted by Forbes as saying that he didn’t have a strong opinion of Musk prior to his arrival at Twitter, characterising himself as being in the “wait-and-see camp.” But, since the new regime, “it’s gone downhill,” Frohnhoefer reportedly noted.

“No one trusts anyone within the company anymore,” he reportedly said. “How can you function? Employees don’t trust the new management. Management doesn’t trust the employees. How do you think you’re supposed to get anything done? That’s why there’s production freezes – you can’t merge code, you can’t turn things on without permission from VPs.”

Frohnhoefer added that he remains “concerned” for the near-future of the company, particularly given how its top leadership treats employees.

Meanwhile Bloomberg reported that Musk also fired another senior engineer at Twitter, Ben Leib, who publicly criticised him on the social-media service, despite Musk calling himself a “free speech absolutist.

Ben Leib has changed his profile to “once upon a time engineer at Twitter,” after he tweeted the following.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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