June 5, 2023

Twitter’s survival at stake, Musk warns as remote work ends

Matt O’brien, Associated Press

Published Thursday, November 10, 2022 3:11 PM EST

Last updated on Thursday, November 10, 2022 at 8:28 PM EST

Elon Musk warned Twitter employees on Thursday to brace for “tough times ahead” that could end in the collapse of the social media platform if they don’t find new ways to make money.

Employees who survived last week’s mass layoffs face tougher working conditions and growing uncertainty about their ability to keep Twitter operating safely as it continues to lose high-level executives responsible for data privacy, cybersecurity and regulatory compliance.

That includes Yoel Roth, Twitter’s chief trust and safety officer — a previously little-known executive who became the public face of Twitter’s content moderation after Musk took over and whom Musk had praised for championing Twitter’s ongoing efforts to combat harmful misinformation and hate speech. . The executive confirmed Roth’s resignation to co-workers on an internal message board seen by The Associated Press.

The development was part of the second stormy day since Musk bought the social media platform. It started with an email to Musk’s employees Wednesday night, telling employees to stop working from home and report to the office Thursday morning. He called his first “all hands” meeting Thursday afternoon. Before that, many relied on the billionaire Tesla CEO’s public tweets for clues about Twitter’s future.

“Sorry this is my first email to the entire company, but there’s no way to hide the message,” Musk wrote before describing the tough economic climate for companies like Twitter that rely almost entirely on advertising to make money.

“Without significant subscription revenue, there’s a good chance Twitter won’t survive the coming economic downturn,” Musk said. “We need about half of our income for ordering.”

At a staff meeting, Musk said some “exceptional” employees could apply for an exemption from his return order, but others who didn’t like it could quit, said an employee at the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity. concern for occupational safety.

The employee also said that Musk appeared to downplay employee concerns about how Twitter employees handled their responsibilities to maintain privacy and security standards, saying that as Tesla’s CEO, he knows how it works.

Musk’s memo and staff meeting mirrored a live-streamed conversation trying to appease big advertisers on Wednesday, his broadest public comments on Twitter’s direction since he struck a $44 billion deal late last month to buy the social media platform and fired its top executives. Several well-known brands have stopped advertising on Twitter.

Musk told employees that “the focus of the last 10 days” was to develop and launch Twitter’s new subscription service for $7.99 a month, which has a blue check mark next to the name of paid members – a mark previously only for verified accounts. Musk’s project has been moving apace, with new fake accounts appearing this week posing as high-profile figures such as basketball star LeBron James and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to post false information or offensive jokes.

In another email to employees, Musk said the “absolute top priority” in the coming days is to prevent “bots/trolls/spam” from using verified accounts. But Twitter now employs far fewer people to help him do this.

An executive said last week that Twitter would cut about 50 percent of its workforce, which numbered 7,500 earlier this year.

Musk told his employees in an email that “remote work is no longer allowed” and the road ahead is “difficult and requires intense work to succeed,” and that they must be in the office at least 40 hours a week.

Twitter’s ongoing removal includes the company’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, and chief information officer Lea Kissner, who tweeted Thursday that “I have made the difficult decision to leave Twitter.”

Roth’s departure is a “huge loss” to Twitter’s credibility and integrity, said his former colleague and friend Emily Horne.

“He has worked incredibly hard under very challenging circumstances, including personally targeting some of the nastiest trolls active on the platform,” said Horne, who oversaw global policy communications on Twitter until 2018. “He endured all of this because he believed so deeply in the work his team was doing to promote public debate and improve the health of that debate.”

Cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, tweeted Thursday that there was a “serious risk of a data breach with a drastically reduced staff,” which could also put Twitter at odds with a 2011 order from the Federal Trade Commission that required it to intervene in serious matters. information security expires.

“Twitter made huge strides toward a more sensible internal security model, and giving up will get them in trouble with the FTC and other regulators in the US and Europe,” Stamos said.

The FTC said in a statement Thursday that it is “following Twitter’s recent developments with deep concern.”

“No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must comply with our consent regulations,” the agency said in a statement. “Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we stand ready to use them.”

The FTC did not say whether it was investigating Twitter for potential violations. If it were, it has the authority to demand documents and fire employees.

In an email to employees seen by the AP, Musk said, “Twitter is making every effort to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FTC’s consent decree.”

“Anything you read to the contrary is completely false. The same goes for all the other government regulatory issues that Twitter operates in,” Musk wrote.

Twitter paid a $150 million fine in May for violating a 2011 consent order, and its updated version created new procedures that require the company to implement an improved privacy program and beef up data security.

These new procedures include an exhaustive list of notifications that Twitter must provide to the FTC when introducing new products and services — especially when they affect personal information collected about users.

Musk is thoroughly revamping the platform’s offering, and it is not known if he will tell the FTC about it. Twitter, which destroyed its communications department, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Musk has tangled with regulators. “I have no respect for the SEC,” Musk declared in a 2018 tweet.

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently reviewed for possible lateness the fact that his disclosure to the agency of his purchase of Twitter stock raised a significant stake. In 2018, Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay $20 million in fines over Musk’s allegedly misleading tweets in which he claimed to have received financing to take the electric car maker private at $420 per share. Musk has been fighting the SEC in court to enforce the agreement.

The consequences of not complying with the FTC’s requirements can be severe – for example, when Facebook had to pay $5 billion for privacy violations.

“If Twitter so much as sneezes, it needs to check privacy first,” tweeted Stanford University researcher Riana Pfefferkorn, who previously said she had provided outside legal advice to Twitter. “There are periodic outside audits, and the FTC can monitor compliance.”

AP reporters Frank Bajak and Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.

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