The layoffs could weaken Twitter in its biggest global growth markets

Analysis by Deeksha Madhok, CNN Business

(CNN) – It’s been less than two weeks since then Elon Musk is done his acquisition of Twitter and there are already concerns that the company is choosing to ignore key risks its biggest international growth markets.

Twitter was dismissed on Friday thousands of workers across the company, including employees in India and Africa. The California company already has one turbulent relationship with the region’s governments and tech experts fearing a reduced workforce will leave the platform more vulnerable to disinformation and political pressure than ever before.

Musk’s Twitter has fired nearly all of the staff at its single African office in Ghana’s capital, Accra, about four days after it opened, multiple sources familiar with the situation told CNN.

Twitter has announced that it will open its first African office in Ghana in April 2021, but its employees have been working remotely until then. last week. Sources told CNN that only one employee was retained after the job cuts in Ghana.

“It’s very offensive,” said one former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They didn’t even have the courtesy to call me by name. The email just said ‘see attachment’ and yet they used my name when they submitted it.”

The company has also reportedly made major cuts in India, one of its biggest markets. It laid off more than 90 percent of its workforce in Asia’s third-largest economy at the end of the week, according to an agency. Bloomberg report this week, citing unknown sources. Twitter did not respond multiple requests for comment by CNN.

A Bloomberg report has arrived two days after Economic Times The newspaper reported that Twitter has left about 180 230 employees in the country based on unknown sources.

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

Raman Jeet Singh Cheema, senior international advisor and director of Asia-Pacific policy at digital rights group Access Now, said Twitter had just begun “protecting vulnerable communities” on its platform in India, and now it has sent a clear “signal” that it will no longer invest in public policy and online security groups.

Under siege in important markets

Even earlier Twitter was going through a tough time on both sides India and Africa.

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

As a result, Twitter has been locked in a bitter dispute with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for months over the directive to take down content. This year it was even launched legal problems more than order to block content.

Cheema fears that Twitter’s depleted workforce will no longer be able to “resist” the government and its problematic orders. Musk’s other business interests include the plan Tesla car sales in India — can make the picture even more complicated.

“Musk’s naive understanding of free speech, combined with his desire to bring his other businesses to India and secure a license for them,” makes it difficult for Twitter to come back, he said.

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

The company also went through a tough time last year in Nigeria.

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

The ban came just two days after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely viewed as offensive. In a tweet, Buhari threatened citizens in the South-East 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 more difficult to navigate the new laws in emerging markets.

Hire locally for local development

“Given India’s adversarial stance against big tech, companies like Twitter have always needed an army of policy experts in the country to deal with whatever is thrown at them,” said Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Delhi-based technology website MediaNama. and added that he fears Twitter is “struggling to keep up” with policy changes in India.

Twitter doesn’t share user numbers, but says India has a platform 17.5 million users in the country. India released last year new technology ruleswhich are aimed at regulating online content and require companies to hire people who can respond to legitimate requests to remove posts.

Pahwa said that while some “lawful authorities” had to fill Twitter to comply with the rules, he was unsure about the fate of other departments, including public policy, business and content moderation – all of which are key to moving forward. in growth markets.

Analysts are also globally concerned about the impact of these cuts on disinformation.

There are concerns in the United States that Twitter’s growing turmoil could weaken its safeguards for Twitter mid-term elections.

Joel Roth, the company’s head of security and integrity, said on Friday 15 percent of workers were allowed in the trust and the security team.

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

Content moderation is especially difficult in India where it is over 22 languages ​​and hundreds mostly speaking with dialects. Digital rights groups have been calling for increased investment in the activity for years.

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

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

– Larry Madowo contributed to this report.

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