Twitter layoffs in India and Africa could weaken the company in its biggest growth markets

New Delhi
CNN Business

It’s been less than two weeks since Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, and there are already concerns that the company is choosing to ignore key risks in its fastest growing international markets.

Twitter on Friday laid off thousands of employees across the company, including staff in India and Africa. The California-based company already had a turbulent relationship with governments in those regions, and tech experts fear a diminished workforce will leave the platform more vulnerable than ever to disinformation and political pressure.

Musk’s Twitter fired nearly all employees at its only African office just four days after it opened in Ghana’s 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 last week. Sources told CNN that only one employee appears to have been retained in the Ghana office following the global job cuts.

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

The company has also reportedly made sweeping cuts in India, one of its biggest markets. It laid off more than 90 percent of its staff in Asia’s third-largest economy over the weekend, according to a Bloomberg report this week, which cited unnamed sources. Twitter did not respond multiple requests for comment from CNN.

The Bloomberg report arrived two days after the Economic Times newspaper reported that Twitter had let loose 180 or so 230 employees in the country, citing anonymous sources.

Free speech advocates say cutting the workforce is bad news for both employees and users in Twitter’s international markets.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, senior international adviser and director of Asia Pacific policy at digital rights group Access Now, said Twitter had just started “protecting vulnerable communities” on its platform in India and had now sent a “clear signal” that it will no longer invest in public policy and online security equipment.

Even earlier The layoffs, Twitter was going through a tough time in both India and Africa.

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

As a result, Twitter had spent months locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over orders to take down content. This year, it even launched a legal challenge to content blocking orders.

Chima fears Twitter’s depleted workforce no longer has the ability 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 businesses to India and secure licenses there,” make it difficult for Twitter to back down, he explained.

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

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

Last June, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter’s operations in the country, accusing the social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria.”

The ban was announced just two days after Twitter removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely perceived as offensive. In the tweet, Buhari threatened the citizens of the South East region following the attacks on public properties.

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

Technology experts now fear the company will have even more difficulty navigating new laws in emerging markets.

“Given India’s adversarial stance against big tech, companies like Twitter have always needed an army of public policy experts in the country to deal with anything thrown at them,” said Nikhil Pahwa, founder of the Delhi-based technology website MediaNama, adding that he fears that Twitter will “struggle to keep pace” with political 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 rules aimed at regulating online content and requiring companies to hire people who can respond quickly to legal requests to take down posts, among other things .

Pahwa said that while certain “statutory positions” that Twitter was forced to take to comply with these rules will remain, he is unsure of the fate of other departments, including public policy, business and content moderation, all of which are key to thriving. in growing markets.

Analysts are also worried globally about the impact these layoffs will have on disinformation.

In the United States, there are concerns that the growing tumult on Twitter could weaken its guarantees for the midterm elections.

Yoel Roth, the company’s head of security and integrity, said Friday about 15% of workers in the trust and security team they were let go.

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 particularly complicated in India, where more than 22 languages ​​and hundreds of other dialects are spoken. Digital rights groups have been calling for increased investment in the activity for years.

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

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

— Larry Madowo contributed to this report.

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