US Senators Warn Elon Musk After Twitter Safety Resignations

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Departure of two safety executives at Twitter last week prompts warning from US Senators to Elon Musk over FTC compliance

A number of Democrat Senators have written to Twitter’s management and owner Elon Musk, warning that recent key departures could land it in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The senators warned Elon Musk that Twitter’s 2011 and 2022 agreement with the FTC is now at risk, after two high-level departures allegedly put user’s privacy and data security at risk.

This warning letter will be the first of many challenges facing new CEO Linda Yaccarino, who this week clocked into her new role in charge of Twitter, in the aftermath of Musk’s chaotic running of the platform.

Linda Yaccarino Comcast twitter
Image credit: Comcast

Safety departures

The letter from the Senators emerged after it emerged last week that Twitter’s second head of trust and safety under Musk, Ella Irwin, had resigned.

It was unclear why Irwin had left Twitter, but the move came days after Musk publicly criticised a content moderation decision by the company.

It also came a week after the platform withdrew from the European code of practice on disinformation.

In February the European Commission had already criticised Twitter’s compliance with the code, saying its efforts were falling short of those of its peers.

Ella Irwin had assumed the role after Twitter’s previous head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, had left in November 2022 – a month after Musk took over the platform.

But it has also now emerged that Twitter’s head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown, had also departed the platform last week.

The departure of these two senior safety executives comes on top of Musk also disbanding Twitter’s volunteer group (the Trust and Safety Council) in December, which advised the platform on self-harm, child abuse and hate speech.

Elon Musk also gutted Twitter’s external contractor teams, whose role was to ensure the platform was free of misinformation and hate.

Senator’s letter

Following the departures of Ella Irwin (Twitter’s former head of trust and safety) and A.J. Brown (former head of brand safety and advertising quality), four Democratic senators publicly warned Twitter and Elon Musk that its compliance with the FTC agreements could be at risk.

The four senators wrote in a letter to Twitter owner Elon Musk and new CEO Linda Yaccarino that they were concerned about Twitter’s ability to meet its legal obligations.

One of the senators included Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has clashed with Elon Musk previously over his tax arrangements.

“We write regarding allegations that Twitter, Inc. has, since Mr. Musk purchased and became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company in October 2022, violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put consumer privacy and data security at risk,” the letter reads.

“Last week, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and Twitter’s head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown, resigned,” the letter stated. “These departures, following a string of high-profile resignations from Twitter’s lead privacy, information security, and compliance officers, raise concerns about Twitter’s ability to comply with its legal obligations.”

“These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree,” the letter added. “In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk’s team has said he is “used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.”

“Mr. Musk’s behaviour reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter’s longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company,” the letter stated.

“Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased,” the letter stated. “Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements.”

In May 2022 Twitter reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the US Department of Justice (DoJ) over a privacy incident in 2019.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Twitter was ordered to pay a $150m penalty “for deceptively using account security data for targeted advertising.”

In November 2022, a spokesperson for the FTC said the federal agency was closely watching Elon Musk’s moves at Twitter with “deep concern”.

Then in March 2023 FTC confirmed it is investigating Twitter and Elon Musk for potential violations of its 2011 agreement.

The FTC acknowledgement marked a rare public confirmation of a probe linked to alleged violations of an FTC settlement, which Twitter signed back in 2011.

That 2011 agreement was designed to ensure Twitter improved its protection of user data.