Layoffs could weaken Twitter in its biggest global growth markets | CNN Business


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CNN Business

It’s been less than two weeks since Elon Musk completed his takeover of Twitter, and there are already concerns that the company is choosing to address the key risks in are largest international growth markets.

Twitter fired thousands of employees across the company on Friday, including those in India and Africa. The California-based company has already had a turbulent relationship with governments in these regions, and tech experts fear a reduced workforce will make the platform more vulnerable than ever to misinformation and political pressure.

Musk’s Twitter fired nearly all employees in its only African office just four days after it opened in the Ghanaian capital Accra, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.

Twitter announced it would open its first African office in Ghana in April 2021, but its employees had been working remotely until now last week. The sources told CNN that only one employee appears to have been detained in the Ghana office following the global job loss.

“It’s very insulting,” a former employee said on condition of anonymity. “They didn’t even have the courtesy to call me by my name. The email only said ‘see attachment’ and yet they used my name when they made me an offer.

The company has also reportedly made significant cuts in India, one of its largest markets. It laid off more than 90% of its workforce in Asia’s third-largest economy over the weekend, according to a Bloomberg report this week, which quoted unnamed sources. Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment by CNN.

The Bloomberg report came two days after the Economic Times newspaper reported that Twitter had turned 180 of about . had let go 230 employees in the country, citing undisclosed sources.

Freedom of expression advocates say cutting the workforce is bad news for employees and users alike in Twitter’s international markets.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, senior international advisor and Asia-Pacific policy director at digital rights group Access Now, said Twitter had just started “protecting vulnerable communities” on its platform in India, and now it has a “clear signal” that it will stop investing in government policies and online security teams.

Even before the layoffs, Twitter went through a rough time in both India and Africa.

India’s ruling party has intensified its crackdown on social media and messaging apps since last year. US tech companies have repeatedly expressed fears that the country’s rules could compromise privacy and usher in mass surveillance in the world’s fastest-growing digital market. India says it is trying to maintain national security.

As a result, Twitter had been locked in a standoff for months with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over orders to remove content. This year, it even launched a legal challenge over orders to block content.

Chima fears Twitter’s depleted workforce will no longer be able to “challenge” the government and its problematic orders. Musk’s other business interests — including a plan to sell Tesla vehicles in India — may further complicate the picture.

“Musk’s simplistic understanding of free speech coupled with his desire to bring his other companies to India and obtain licenses for them,” makes it difficult for Twitter to push back, he explained.

India’s engineering ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The company also went through a challenging period in Nigeria last year.

Last June, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter’s activities in the country, accusing the social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that could undermine Nigeria’s business existence”.

The ban was announced just two days after Twitter deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely considered offensive. In the tweet, Buhari threatened civilians in the southeastern region after attacks on public property.

Nigeria decided to lift the ban only in January this year.

Tech experts now fear the company will find it even harder to navigate new laws in emerging markets.

“Given India’s hostile stance against big tech, companies like Twitter have always needed an army of government policy experts in the country to face whatever is thrown at them,” said Nikhil Pahwa, the Delhi-based established founder of the tech website MediaNama, adding that he fears Twitter will “have trouble keeping up” with policy changes in India.

Twitter does not share user numbers, but according to India, the platform has 17.5 million users in the country. Last year, India released new technology regulations aimed at regulating online content and requiring companies to hire people who can respond quickly to legal requests, including deletion of posts.

Pahwa said that while certain “legal positions” Twitter had to fill to comply with these rules will remain, he is uncertain about the fate of other departments, including public policy, business and content moderation — all of which are key to thriving in growth markets.

Analysts worldwide are also concerned about the impact these layoffs will have on misinformation.

In the United States, there are concerns that the growing uproar within Twitter could weaken midterm elections safeguards.

Yoel Roth, the company’s chief of security and integrity, said on Friday: 15% of employees in the trust and security team were released.

There are similar concerns in India, where social media activity is expected to increase as the country prepares for major state elections in the coming months.

Content moderation is especially tricky in India, where more than 22 languages ​​and hundreds of other dialects are spoken. Digital rights groups have been demanding more investment in the activity for years.

“Content moderation should be specific to geography,” said Vivan Sharan, a partner at Koan Advisory Group, a technology policy consultancy based in Delhi.

“Are they interested in treating all users equally?” he wondered.

— Larry Madowo contributed to this report.

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