Twitter began its highly anticipated mass layoffs Thursday evening by eliminating its top internal critics. Twitter’s Ethical AI team, according to former staff, is no more.
Multiple members of Twitter’s Machine Learning, Ethics, Transparency and Accountability (META) team, including its former leader, posted on Twitter saying they were no longer at the company. At least one of the former workers suggested the entire team was being disbanded. The apparent layoffs impacting the company’s strongest internal watchdog group comes as thousands more brace for cuts potentially impacting around half of the company’s staff according to previous reports.
Gizmodo found tweets from around half a dozen META team members claiming they were impacted by the layoffs. META head Rumman Chowdhury posted a screenshot of apparently being locked out of her Twitter email account alongside a tweet reading, “Has it already started? Happy layoff eve!” Chowdhury, who spearheaded a number of transparency initiatives at the company including launching a first of its kind algorithmic bias bounty challenge, went on to say, “it’s definitely only downhill on this hellsite.”
Other former META team members said they too were laid off, with former Senior Engineering Manager Joan Deitchman saying, “the team is gone.” The META team’s name also wasn’t listed on Twitter’s career page as of writing Friday morning.
“The team that was researching and pushing for algorithmic transparency and algorithmic choice,” Deitchman wrote, “The team that was studying algorithmic amplification. The team that was inventing and building ethical AI tooling and methodologies. All that is gone.”
Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on the META team layoff or whether work on AI accountability would continue at the company.
META was formed last year with the explicit task of auditing Twitter’s algorithms to investigate potential unintended harms and biases. The team’s research led to real changes at Twitter. In one case, the company stopped using an automated cropping algorithm after META researchers found evidence it was expressing racial bias. META, which formed in the months following Google’s controversial firing of its ethical AI team’s co-leader, was unique because it actively sought out well respected, high profile engineers and researchers openly critical of Big Tech’s effects on society.
The group was widely praised among AI researchers and tech critics as a meaningful symbol of transparency and accountability within a major tech company that, at its best, could identify harmful issues and help rebuild degrading users’ trust. Twitter, under Musk’s leadership, appears to view those efforts as redundancies.
Though the full picture of Twitter’s Musk-era purge remains unclear, they clearly extend far beyond the META team.
Twitter’s roughly 7,500 employees received an email alerting them of impending layoffs on Thursday evening according to reports in The New York Times. The workers were instructed to stay home from the office on Friday while the layoffs proceeded.
“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force,” the email, which was cryptically signed “Twitter” read. “We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward.”
Musk, who finalized his acquisition of the company last week, had previously considered laying off as many as 75% of the company staff according to The Washington Post, before ultimately scaling that down. Now, internal emails reportedly suggest around half of the company’s employees could lose their jobs.
The majority of that’s in the name of radically cutting costs. In addition to the staff layoffs, Musk reportedly instructed staff to find up to $1 billion annually in savings from infrastructure costs, Reuters reports. Musk wants to squeeze out between $1.5 to $3 million per day in savings from servers and cloud services, which the report warns risks putting a strain on Twitter during high traffic events.
This is a developing story.