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    Twitter lays off staff as Musk blames activists for ‘massive’ ad revenue drop

    • Musk looking to axe around half of Twitter’s workforce
    • Employees file class action against Twitter
    • Staff lose access to systems
    • Volkswagen pulls ads

    Nov 4 (Reuters) – Twitter Inc started a major round of layoffs on Friday, alerting employees of their job status by email after barring the entrances to offices and cutting off workers’ access to internal systems overnight.

    The move follows a week of chaos and uncertainty about the company’s future under new owner Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, who tweeted on Friday that the service was experiencing a “massive drop in revenue” as advertisers pulled spending.

    Musk blamed the losses on a coalition of civil rights groups that has been pressing Twitter’s top advertisers to take action if he did not protect content moderation. The groups said on Friday they are escalating their pressure and demanding brands pull their Twitter ads globally.

    “In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday,” Twitter said in an email to staff on Thursday evening announcing the cuts that came on Friday, which was seen by Reuters.

    The company was silent about the depth of the cuts, although internal plans reviewed by Reuters this week indicated Musk was looking to cut around 3,700 Twitter staff, or about half the workforce.

    Staff who worked in engineering, communications, product, content curation and machine learning ethics were among those impacted by the layoffs, according to tweets from Twitter staff.

    Shannon Raj Singh, an attorney who was Twitter’s acting head of human rights, tweeted on Friday that the entire human rights team at the company had been cut.

    Musk has promised to restore free speech while preventing Twitter from descending into a “hellscape.” However, his reassurances have failed to calm major advertisers, which have expressed apprehension about his takeover for months.

    Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) recommended its brands pause paid advertising on Twitter until further notice in the wake of Musk’s takeover, it said on Friday. Its comments echoed similar remarks from other companies, including General Motors Co (GM.N) and General Mills Inc (GIS.N).

    Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, which is part of the civil rights coalition, said he knew of two more major advertisers that were preparing to announce that they would pause ads on the platform.

    Musk tweeted that his team had made no changes to content moderation and done “everything we could” to appease the groups. “Extremely messed up! They’re (civil right groups) trying to destroy free speech in America.”

    Speaking at an investors conference in New York on Friday, Musk called the activist pressure “an attack on the First Amendment.”

    Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    ACCESS TO SYSTEMS CUT

    Dozens of staffers tweeted they lost access to work email and Slack channels before receiving an official notice, which they took as a sign they had been laid off.

    They tweeted blue hearts and salute emojis expressing support for one another, using the hashtags #OneTeam and #LoveWhereYouWorked, a past-tense version of a slogan employees had used for years to celebrate the company’s work culture.

    Twitter’s curation team, which is responsible for “highlighting and contextualizing the best events and stories that unfold on Twitter,” had been axed, employees said on the platform. The company’s communications team in India has also been laid off, according to a Twitter executive in Asia.

    A team that focused on research into how Twitter employed algorithms, an issue that was a priority for Musk, was also eliminated, according to a tweet from a former senior manager at Twitter.

    Senior executives including Vice President of Engineering Arnaud Weber also said their goodbyes on Twitter on Friday: “Twitter still has a lot of unlocked potential but I’m proud of what we accomplished,” he tweeted.

    Employees of Twitter Blue, the premium subscription service that Musk is bolstering, were also let go. An employee with the handle “SillyRobin” who had indicated they were laid off, quote-tweeted Musk’s previous tweet saying Twitter Blue would include “paywall bypass” for certain publishers.

    “Just to be clear, he fired the team working on this,” the employee said.

    Twitter’s head of Safety & Integrity, Yoel Roth, appeared to have kept his job, as did Vice President of Product Keith Coleman, who launched a tool called Birdwatch for users to write notes on tweets they identify as misleading.

    Last week, Musk endorsed Roth, citing his “high integrity” after Roth was called out over tweets critical of former U.S. President Donald Trump years earlier. Musk has also tweeted that he likes Birdwatch.

    Roth and Coleman did not respond to requests for comment.

    DOORS LOCKED

    Twitter said in its email to staffers that offices would be temporarily closed and badge access suspended in order “to help ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data.”

    Offices in London and Dublin appeared deserted on Friday, with no employees in sight. At the London office, any evidence Twitter had once occupied the building was erased.

    A receptionist at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters said a few people had trickled in and were working in the floors above despite the notice to stay away.

    A class action was filed on Thursday against Twitter by its employees, who argued the company was conducting mass layoffs without providing the required 60-day advance notice, in violation of federal and California law.

    The lawsuit also asked the San Francisco federal court to issue an order to restrict Twitter from soliciting employees being laid off to sign documents without informing them of the pendency of the case.

    Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas, Katie Paul in Palo Alto, Calif., and Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.
    Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, Rusharti Mukherjee, Aditya Kalra, Martin Coulter, Hyunjoo Jin, Supantha Mukherjee and Arriana McLymore
    Writing by Matt Scuffham
    Editing by Kenneth Li, Jason Neely and Matthew Lewis

    Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

    Thomson Reuters

    San Francisco Bay Area-based tech reporter covering Google and the rest of Alphabet Inc. Joined Reuters in 2017 after four years at the Los Angeles Times focused on the local tech industry.

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