Fired by Elon Musk, Melissa Ingle, former data scientist for Twitter, testifies and talks about the underside of the massive layoffs and worries about the future of a platform without moderation.
In the heights of San Francisco, in the steep and colorful streets, Melissa Ingle receives guests in her family home. In the living room, in this cloudy beginning of December, there is a newly decorated tree. “It’s almost Christmas and it’s quite stressful,” she worries Tech&Co. She has not received severance pay or salary for a month.
Like many, she is a part of the wave of massive layoffs run by new Twitter boss Elon Musk in November. However, she would like to spend the end of the year “happy with her two children”, she continues, looking at a picture of her children on the shelf.
Melissa Ingle started working at Twitter in September 2021. Data scientist specializing in content moderation and specifically in political disinformation, his role was to review any terms that would violate the platform’s rules. Not just in the US, but all over the world. Like more than half of former Twitter employees, she was fired without being thanked in advance. In her case, as a contractual subcontractor, she did not have the benefits of other employees, such as having mutual insurance.
“I was heartbroken”
Sitting at the coffee table, Melissa Ingle strives to give complete answers and does not hesitate to discuss her personal situation. Between each of her answers, she takes a deep breath to try to calm the stress. She remembers with emotion the day she learned of her dismissal. It was November 12th to be exact. “The week of the mid-term elections in the United States, and when I was working in political disinformation, I was very concerned about these issues, and I had no indication of the work to be done”.
And to continue: “I was at the mall with my daughter and a friend. I received a notification on my phone: my professional access had been removed, I could not connect to my mailbox or to the Slack platform. I was devastated” .
Then several questions arise. Living in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities, without a job? “I thought about whether I wanted to continue working and living here,” she admits.
So for a week, no news from the management of Twitter. She sends inquiries internally to find out why her access had been cut off. But his pleas went unheeded. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, there was no clear communication. The management is completely erratic, there has been no collective deliberation, all these firings are based on a single person”, she continues without mentioning Elon Musk.
A few days later, on November 16, the new boss arrived send an email to all employees. The message is simple: Work hard for Twitter or leave. They give them 24 hours to make a decision or access will be closed. “In the US, especially in the tech sector, employees sign a confidentiality agreement that avoids disparaging the company publicly. For my part, I have not signed an agreement specific to this layoff situation.”
This is the reason why she has multiplied interviews in the American press since her departure. “People need to know how moderation works,” Melissa Ingle insists as she worries increase in hateful content and racists for a month. Statements confirmed by a study of Center for Combating Digital Hate. She also points to the lack of engineers specializing in moderation, although Elon Musk dissolved the board of trustees on 12 December and security, a unit that brought together a hundred independent researchers and human rights activists.
“It’s quite interesting to see that as early as April, and Musk’s acquisition announcements, he pointed to Twitter’s moderation policy.” In fact, the billionaire considers himself a “champion of absolute freedom of expression”, even if it is on the border of hate speech, as illustrated by the return of previously banned accounts like Donald Trump’s.
“We believe in this platform”
“Of course free speech is necessary,” insists Melissa Ingle. “But you can’t have a free platform without moderation. Our team spent a lot of time trying to fix these issues.” On the day of the takeover, she says she was “scared,” but that didn’t stop her. to continue working.”Because we believe in this platform”, exclaims the former employee.
Elon Musk tweeted several times to condemn Twitter’s moderation policy before his arrival. But his new leadership has led to controversies such as The Twitter files.
That’s why Melissa Ingle is worried about the future of the social network. “I’m tweeting more than ever to warn the situation. Platforms without moderation are similar to far-right sites like 4Chan or Gab. However, she believes that Twitter is not in “a desperate situation.” “Thanks to the networks, voices have been heard through Metoo or Black Lives Matter”, she recalls.
The former employee is currently looking for a job and remains in touch with his data scientist colleagues. “It’s important to keep in touch. In a WhatsApp group of about thirty people, we help each other, we share job ads”. Among them, some still work on Twitter. “They are afraid to speak up when they see what happens to those who have spoken negatively publicly about their new boss. They are afraid of being fired or losing their severance pay,” she said.
With Elon Musk, a bad tweet can be fatal. Eric Frohnhoefer worked at Twitter for android operating system and dared to contradict his new boss. Elon Musk fired him in a post (since deleted) that simply said “he’s fired.”