Elon Musk’s move to purge Twitter Inc. employees who don’t buy into his vision has led to a wave of departures among policy and safety officials around the world, prompting questions from regulators in key jurisdictions about the site’s ongoing compliance efforts.
The employee departures in recent days include dozens of people spread across units such as government policy, legal affairs and Twitter’s “trust and safety” department, which is responsible for functions such as drafting content moderation policies, according to current and former employees, postings in social media and emails sent to work addresses of people who used to work at Twitter who have recently recovered. They set off from hubs including Dublin, Singapore and San Francisco.
Many of the departures follow Mr. Musk’s ultimatum late last week that employees commit to working long hours and being “extremely hardcore” or face buyouts. Hundreds or more employees refused to engage with what Mr. Musk called Twitter 2.0 and were locked out of company systems. It comes after layoffs in early November that cut roughly half of the company’s staff.
Twitter held a new round of job cuts affecting engineers late Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, people familiar with the matter said. The exact extent could not be immediately learned, although some people believe that dozens of employees have been let go.
Twitter sent the fired engineers an email saying their code was unsatisfactory and offering four weeks of severance, some of the people said. Some other engineers received an email warning them to improve their performance to keep their jobs, the people said.
Ireland’s data protection commission said this week it is asking Twitter whether it still has enough staff to ensure compliance with the European Union’s privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The company told the Irish data regulator last week that it had done so but was still reviewing the impact of the staff departure, a spokesman for the Irish regulator said.
He said Twitter had appointed an interim chief data protection officer, a duty under the GDPR, following the departure of Damien Kieran, who had held the role but left shortly after the first round of layoffs.
In France, meanwhile, the country’s communications regulator said it sent a letter last Friday asking Twitter to explain by this week whether it has enough staff to moderate hate speech, considered illegal under French law – under which Twitter can face legal injunctions and fines.
The staff departure comes as Twitter holds talks with the EU over the bloc’s new social media law, called the Digital Services Act, which will apply tougher rules to larger platforms like Twitter by the middle of next year. Didier Reynders, the EU justice commissioner, is due to attend a previously scheduled meeting with Twitter executives in Ireland on Thursday. He plans to ask about the company’s ability to comply with the law and meet its commitments to protect data and tackle hate speech online, according to an EU official familiar with the trip.
Vera Jourova, vice-president of the EU executive, said she was concerned by reports of massive redundancies at Twitter in Europe. “European laws continue to apply to Twitter, regardless of who owns it,” she said.
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Mr Musk said he would follow the laws of the countries where Twitter operates and that it “cannot become a free hell environment”.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Late on 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.
“Congratulations to the Twitter team!” Mr. Musk wrote.
Some of the people who have either left or declined to sign up for Twitter 2.0 appear to include Sinead McSweeney, the company’s Ireland-based vice president of global policy and philanthropy, who leads government relations and regulatory compliance initiatives worldwide , as well as the two other employees at Twitter’s Brussels office.
Ms. McSweeney and the two Brussels officials declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses began returning undelivered in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based employees were told earlier this month they would be laid off, according to social media posts and people familiar with the matter.
Damien Wiel, Twitter’s manager for France, was also among the wave of employees who publicly posted this week that they had left the company. He declined to comment when contacted by the newspaper.
At least some of the departures occurred in teams that reported to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, who resigned earlier this month. In a commentary for the New York Times,
Mr. Roth said he resigned because Mr. Musk had made it clear that he would make his own decisions about the platform’s policy and rules and that he had little use for those at the company advising him on those matters.
The team included Ilana Rosenzweig, who served as Twitter’s senior director and head of international trust and safety. She has left the company, according to her LinkedIn profile. Based in Singapore, Ms. Rosenzweig leads Twitter’s trust and safety teams in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, along with Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, according to her profile.
“I’ve decided to disagree with Twitter 2.0,” Keith Yeat, Twitter’s trust and safety officer based in Singapore, wrote on LinkedIn on Monday. Mr. Yeat has worked on child sexual exploitation issues and managed legal escalations from Japan and other countries, according to his LinkedIn profile. Attempts to reach Ms. Rosenzweig and Mr. Yeat were unsuccessful.
The departures come amid a wave of new technology regulations, particularly in Europe. The Digital Services Act, which by the middle of next year will require tech companies like Twitter, with more than 45 million users in the EU, to maintain robust systems to remove content that European national governments deem illegal.
The law also requires these companies to reduce the risks associated with content that regulators deem harmful or hateful. It mandates regular external audits of companies’ processes and threatens fines for non-compliance of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue.
Political leaders have warned that Mr Musk’s Twitter will have to comply with EU rules. “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules,” the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, tweeted hours after Mr. Musk completed his Twitter deal in late October, “the bird is free.”
A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said this week it was in active contact with the company regarding regulation and combating disinformation and illegal hate speech, but declined to comment on the nature 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 opponents. The wave of departures “raises questions about how Twitter will moderate tweets and comments in a professional and neutral way,” said Patrick Poon, an activist-turned-scholar at Japan’s Meiji University who analyzes free speech.
— Lisa Lynn, Alexa Kors and Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.
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