Musk's latest Twitter cuts: Outsourced content moderators

 Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk is further gutting the teams that battle misinformation on the social media platform as outsourced moderators learned over the weekend they were out of a job.

Twitter and other big social media firms have relied heavily on contractors to track hate and enforce rules against harmful content.

But many of those content watchdogs have now headed out the door, first when Twitter fired much of its full-time workforce by email on Nov. 4 and now as it moves to eliminate an untold number of contract jobs.

Melissa Ingle, who worked at Twitter as a contractor for more than a year, was one of a number of contractors who said they were terminated Saturday. She said she’s concerned that there’s going to be an increase in abuse on Twitter with the number of workers leaving.

“I love the platform and I really enjoyed working at the company and trying to make it better. And I’m just really fearful of what’s going to slip through the cracks,” she said Sunday.

Ingle, a data scientist, said she worked on the data and monitoring arm of Twitter’s civic integrity team. Her job involved writing algorithms to find political misinformation on the platform in countries such as the U.S., Brazil, Japan, Argentina, and elsewhere.

Ingle said she was “pretty sure I was done for” when she couldn't access her work email Saturday. The notification from the contracting company she’d been hired by came two hours later.

“I’ll just be putting my resumes out there and talking to people," she said. “I have two children. And I’m worried about being able to give them a nice Christmas, you know, and just mundane things like that, that are important. I just think it’s particularly heartless to do this at this time.”

Content moderation expert Sarah Roberts, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who worked as a staff researcher at Twitter earlier this year, said she believes at least 3,000 contract workers were fired Saturday night.

Twitter hasn't said how many contract workers it cut. The company hasn't responded to media requests for information since Musk took over.

At Twitter's San Francisco headquarters and other offices, contract workers wore green badges while full-time workers wore blue badges. Contractors did a number of jobs to help keep Twitter running, including engineering and marketing, Roberts said. But it was the huge force of contracted moderators that was “mission critical” to the platform, said Roberts.

Cutting them will have a “tangible impact on the experience of the platform,” she said.

Musk promised to loosen speech restrictions when he took over Twitter. But in the early days after Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October and dismissed its board of directors and top executives, the billionaire Tesla CEO sought to assure civil rights groups and advertisers that the platform could continue tamping down hate and hate-fueled violence.

That message was reiterated by Twitter's then-head of content moderation, Yoel Roth, who tweeted that the Nov. 4 layoffs only affected “15% of our Trust & Safety organization (as opposed to approximately 50% cuts company-wide), with our front-line moderation staff experiencing the least impact."

Roth has since resigned from the company, joining an exodus of high-level leaders who were tasked with privacy protection, cybersecurity, and complying with regulations.

Elon Musk said Monday he has "too much work on my plate, that's for sure."

 The Twitter owner made the comments in a virtual Q&A at the B20 Summit, a business conference held in parallel with the G20 summit in Bali, days after his newly acquired company laid off half its staff and as it culls vast ranks of contract staff, per Axios' Ina Fried.

  • Musk is also CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and he's the founder of tunneling firm The Boring Co. and brain-machine interface company Neuralink.

"I'm working the absolute most that I can work — morning to night, seven days a week," Musk said in his Q&A, captured on video by Bloomberg.

  • "The amount that I torture myself is next level, frankly."

 Musk has in recent days become embroiled in a Twitter exchange with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) after the powerful senator raised concerns about impersonation in regard to the social media site's verification process and days after Musk helped musician Doja Cat change her username from "Christmas" to "fart."

Some Twitter contractors realized they'd been laid off when they lost access to their work email and Slack accounts on Saturday night, two sources told Insider.

The news was first reported by Axios

The laid-off contractors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Insider they did not receive the email until after they realized they'd been locked out of their accounts on Saturday night.

The Twitter workers, employed by Surya Systems, received an email notifying them that they lost their jobs about an hour later, the sources said, adding that those affected worked in content moderation and engineering.

The contractors were told that their assignment at Twitter had ended due to a "reprioritization and savings exercise" and that their last day at the company was Monday.  The email notified them that their badge and system access was "shut off immediately." 

Twitter and Surya Systems did not reply to a request for comment from Insider made outside normal working hours.

"I don't understand how they didn't learn from their previous week's debacle of laying off full-time employees without telling them," one worker told Insider. "It might not seem like a big deal, but I don't think it's appropriate to treat employees like this (again)."

Elon Musk took control of Twitter late last month and had laid off about half of its full-time employees by November 4. Like the contractors, staff members also realized they lost their job when they were locked out of their Slack and email accounts.

Read the full email that Twitter contractors received notifying them that they were laid off:

As you may be aware of, Twitter has conducted a reprioritization and saving exercise in an effort to better focus during this period of resource constraints.

Please allow this communication to serve as notice on behalf of your employer on record that your assignment at Twitter has ended as part of the reprioritization and savings exercise.

In order to maintain Twitter confidential information and for security reasons, your system and badge access will be shut off immediately.

Your last day at Twitter will be Monday, November 14th. You will not be expected to perform any services on November 14th. You will receive your final pay from November 7th through November 14th. Please ensure that any time cards and expenses that are outstanding are submitted into Magnit VMS immediately.

As a reminder, you have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement; please remember that all intellectual property information associated with your assignment, business practices, or your specific project is strictly confidential during and after your Contract.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your employer Surya Systems, Inc.

Thank you for your service to Twitter,

Magnit Team


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