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‘I really am concerned’: The manager who oversaw Twitter’s election team says Elon Musk cutting 50% of employees just before the midterms ‘certainly doesn’t look good’

November 7, 2022, 11:52 PM UTC
Photo of Elon Musk
Elon Musk.
Muhammed Selim Korkutata—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It’s only been a little over a week since Elon Musk closed his deal to buy Twitter, but the Tesla billionaire has already transformed the company.   

He laid off 50% of its staff last week, prompting public goodbye messages and hand-wringing about the service’s future after such dramatic cuts. His takeover coincided with a dramatic uptick in hate speech, and despite Musk’s promise to avoid turning the platform into a “free-for-all hellscape,” many advertisers worry about how he’ll police the service—particularly related to the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday. 

Now Twitter’s former director of product management, says the layoffs could hamper the service’s handling of election-related issues. 

“I really am concerned that it feels like the drama around corporate takeover is sucking up all the oxygen in the room,” Edward Perez told Wired in a story published Monday, adding that the focus on the Musk drama “is resulting in potentially inadequate attention on these election-related issues.” 

Twitter’s civic integrity team, under Perez before he quit in September, worked to slow the spread of disinformation and misinformation—with the main goal of protecting the public conversation on the service about civic processes. As of Friday, Perez said he didn’t know how many of the team’s more than 100 members kept their positions. 

Cutting the company’s staff by half, days before midterms, may leave too few people to do the “very complex work” needed ahead of elections—and that it’s hard to imagine that the layoffs won’t have a “material impact,” he said.  

“It’s not entirely clear to me—particularly in the political context—that Elon Musk fully understands the degree of social responsibility that rests on his shoulders, and the very real harm, political harm, political violence, and division that can come from social media platforms,” Perez said. 

After the job cuts, he’s unsure there are enough people left to analyze what Twitter’s machine-learning-based policing system is detecting, if those models will work to identify harmful words in posts, or if they will flag questionable content. 

“I don’t know the answer to all of that,” he said. “But it certainly doesn’t look good when you’re cutting 50 percent of very talented employees,” he said.

Perez added that the problem with the staff cuts extend far beyond election day on Nov. 8. 

“It is a very, very challenging and complex problem to try to mitigate the harmful effects of all that disinformation,” Perez said. “And I cannot think of a worse time for Elon Musk to cut off Twitter’s resources at the knees.”

As for Musk, on Monday, he gave his nearly 115 million Twitter followers his recommendation about which political party to vote for.  

“Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic,” he said, addressing “independent-minded voters.”

Twitter did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

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