Elon Musk’s move to purge Twitter Inc. employees who do not embrace his vision has led to a wave of departures among policy and security staff around the world, raising questions from regulators in key jurisdictions about the site’s ongoing compliance efforts.
Scrutiny has been particularly tight in Europe, where officials have taken a bigger role in regulating big tech companies in recent years.
The staff departures in recent days include dozens of people across departments such as government policy, legal affairs and Twitter’s “trust and safety” division, which is responsible for functions such as drafting content moderation rules, according to current and former employees, posts on social networks. media and emails sent to the work addresses of people who worked at Twitter were recently returned. They departed from hubs including Dublin, Singapore and San Francisco.
Many of the departures follow Mr Musk’s ultimatum late last week that employees pledge to work long hours and be “extremely tough” or face a buyout. Hundreds or more employees refused to commit to what Mr. Musk called Twitter 2.0 and were kicked out of company systems. This comes after layoffs in early November that laid off roughly half of the company’s workforce.
Twitter made another round of job cuts affecting engineers late Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, people familiar with the matter said. The exact extent was not immediately known, although some people estimated that dozens of employees were laid off.
Twitter sent an email to the fired engineers saying their code was unsatisfactory and offering four weeks of severance pay, 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 Ireland’s data regulator last week that it had, but was still assessing the impact of the staff departures, a spokesman for the Irish regulator said.
He said Twitter had appointed an interim chief data protection officer, a GDPR obligation, following the departure of Damien Kieran, who had served in 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, which is considered illegal under French law – and could face legal action orders and fines.
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The staff departures come as Twitter is in talks with the EU about a new social media law, called the Digital Services Act, which will impose stricter rules on larger platforms like Twitter by the middle of next year. Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, will attend a previously scheduled meeting with Twitter officials in Ireland on Thursday. It plans to question the company’s ability to comply with the law and meet its obligations to protect data and address online hate speech, according to an EU official familiar with the trip.
Věra Jourová, vice-president of the EU’s executive arm, said she was concerned by reports of large layoffs at Twitter in Europe. “European laws continue to apply to Twitter, regardless of who owns it,” she said.
Mr Musk said he would abide by the laws of the countries where Twitter operates and that it “cannot become a free-for-all hell”.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Musk tweeted late Wednesday that the number of views of the tweets, which 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 left or refused to sign on to Twitter 2.0 appear to include Sinead McSweeney, Ireland-based vice president of global policy and philanthropy who led government relations and compliance initiatives around the world, as well as the two remaining employees in Twitter’s Brussels office.
Ms. McSweeney and two Brussels staffers declined to comment, but emails to their work addresses began returning as undeliverable in recent days, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal. Four other Brussels-based employees were told they were being let go earlier this month, according to social media posts and people familiar with the matter.
Damien Viel, Twitter’s country manager for France, was also among the wave of employees who publicly announced they were leaving the company this week. When Deník contacted him, he refused to comment.
At least some of the departures occurred in teams that reported to Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and security, who resigned earlier this month. In comments to the New York Times, Mr. Roth said he resigned because Mr. Musk had made it clear that he himself would decide the platform’s policies and rules and that he was of little use to those at the company who were advising. him in these matters.
The team included Ilana Rosenzweig, who worked as Twitter’s senior director and head of international trust and security. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has left the company. Based in Singapore, Ms. Rosenzweig led Twitter’s trust and security teams in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, along with Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, her profile says.
“I have decided not to agree to Twitter 2.0,” Keith Yet, Twitter’s trust and security officer based in Singapore, wrote on LinkedIn on Monday. Mr. Yet has worked on child sexual exploitation issues and handled legal escalations from Japan and other countries, according to his LinkedIn profile. Attempts to reach Ms. Rosenzweig and Mr. Yet 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 for removing 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 company processes and threatens fines for non-compliance of up to 6% of the 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,” EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted hours after Musk finalized his deal on Twitter in late October, “the bird is free.”
A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said this week it was in active contact with the company about regulating and combating misinformation and illegal hate speech, but declined to comment on the nature of Twitter’s compliance plans.
Activists and researchers also worry 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.
—Liza Lin, Alexa Corse, and Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.
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