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Ex-Twitter employee opens up about sudden layoff, harassment, fears for social media company

Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency

(NEW YORK) — Twitter’s struggles have been mounting since Elon Musk bought the social media company and among the challenges are the thousands of employee layoffs.

From top executives to contract workers who kept an eye on misinformation, no one was spared from Musk’s orders.

Melissa Ingle was laid off from the company over the weekend and spoke with “Start Here” Monday about her experience, the harassment she faced and her concerns about the direction that Musk is taking Twitter.

START HERE: Melissa, first of all, can you just describe what you did on Twitter?

MELISSA INGLE: Absolutely. So I was a data scientist in the Civic Integrity Department, which basically means I wrote and monitored algorithms which scanned Twitter for tweets that violated our policies around political misinformation.

My specific department was just the three of us data scientists, and we were just looking for political misinformation. The larger department that we rolled up into was about 30 people, and they were looking for all kinds of misinformation, hate speech, targeted abuse, pornography [and] child abuse.

We were just trying to keep the site as free and as clear as possible and safe to use for so many people.

START HERE: Did you like it?

INGLE: I loved it. I really, really enjoyed working for Twitter. It felt like it was an important job trying to prevent the spread of misinformation… I love the product, and I’m a longtime Twitter user even before I was hired there.

START HERE: Can you give me examples of what you guys would moderate? How would you get involved with some example of how you guys would help the service?

INGLE: Absolutely. So we used a process called Natural Language Processing, which you may have heard about. It’s searches, language…for keywords or phrases which we had identified as belonging to political misinformation.

So we would flag those tweets and a certain subsection of those, say 200 a week, would be sent for human review.

START HERE: Like someone says “so and so’s campaign is committing fraud,” that could be fake.

INGLE: So, No. 1, we would need to check that it had political information at all. Most people are tweeting about politics. And No. 2, we would check that it had political misinformation.

So we’re trying to keep the elections clean as possible. You can express your opinion. We want you to express your opinion. But the moment you start spreading misinformation, we want to make sure that that is curtailed.

START HERE: So after Elon Musk takes over a couple weeks ago…he started having some all-hands meetings. We’ve actually obtained audio of one last Thursday. Can you just describe how he was talking about the company and what employees thought of it?

INGLE: Yeah, absolutely.

The message was that the financial situation of Twitter was shaky, [and] uncertain, let me say that. And he was not ruling out further cuts and he was requiring everybody to come in to work. Those were some of the things that I heard.

I’ve been in the tech industry here for over 12 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. People were openly saying in meetings, ‘I don’t trust the new CEO.’ And tech is generally [a] very rah-rah place. We’re all committed to the vision and the mission of the company, And I’ve just, I’ve never heard such disparaging terms about the new company leadership. Many of the senior executives were laid off who were people we had trusted.

On Saturday the 12th, I happened to be looking at my phone. At about 5:30 p.m. I had a popup. It said one or more of your access tokens had been removed from this app and it was my Twitter Gmail app. So I tried to log in. I was locked out. I tried to log into the company Slack on my phone, locked out as well. With no warning at all.

START HERE: Ah, that’s the moment when you realized you were laid off. What’s going through your mind then?

INGLE: It’s a horrible feeling. This area, the Bay Area, is extremely expensive to live in, and I’m a single parent, and I was thinking, ‘Well, am I going to be able to afford to live here? Am I going to be able [to pay] my rent? Am I going to be able to give my children a good Christmas? These were my fears throughout the week. There was some uncertainty, and this really drove it home that, well, I don’t have any income, anymore. So I was really terrified for my future.

START HERE: What happened after that? Because you were quite vocal about this.

INGLE: Yeah, for sure. I tweeted immediately.

A journalist reported that they had seen that they heard reports of the contract [workers] were being laid off. And I responded to this and I said, “Yeah, this happened to me.”

I’ve had people say, ‘hey, I’ve heard about this job and why don’t you submit your resume,’ which is just incredible and so heartwarming that people would want to do that for somebody they don’t even know. And not to be cheesy, that’s what’s great about Twitter. It really can help you learn. It’s just empathy machine in a way. It can be at its best.

But then, also not relevant, and I’m a trans woman and I usually keep a pretty low profile. And the amount of hate I’ve received just in the past, I don’t know, 12 to 14 hours, has been absolutely wild. People [were] digging up old posts of mine, tweeting out memes about me. A meme mocking me has over 36,000 likes at this point.

START HERE: Really? Wait, you’re talking about ‘I got laid off’ and then people respond to you with, like, transphobic stuff?

INGLE: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. Not even not dog whistles and outright misgendering. “Good. You are a pedophile. You’re a groomer. You’re a Nazi sympathizer.” Just the worst. “You have a beard. You’re a man.” All this kind of stuff. Yeah.

It’s awful. It’s really upsetting. It’s really upsetting to have to experience it. I’m not talking about that in my post. I’m just talking about being laid off from this company that I really love to work at. I’m expressing my sadness and grief and I’m not saying it to anybody, and it’s just been really tough. People are DM’ing me really awful things and it’s just really terrible.

START HERE: What’s that like for you, knowing that you were part of this team that’s responsible for making Twitter feel safer to use? Because that seems like a really sad, ironic twist.

INGLE: Yeah, it’s a really interesting phenomenon right now. So I want to say that. All right. Now, all of the content moderation is still in place. It hasn’t been removed yet.

But [with] these machine learning models, people like to think that they’re just, they just operate by themselves and they’re great. No. They need constant human input and tuning because over time, with fewer people there, they’re absolutely going to degrade.

Content moderation is important. I know it’s not like a “sexy topic” or some people don’t think it’s important, but without it, your platform can crash and burn.

START HERE: What are you going to do next? Do you have any thoughts about that or what do you do?

INGLE: I understand that there is a class-action lawsuit ongoing under the WARN Act. People on my group chat are mentioning it or actively talking about it. So I know that that is something that people are pursuing. I have not looked into this, as a contract employee, if my rights are still covered. I’m honestly not certain. So in the immediate term, I have to make sure that I can make my rent. I have to make sure that I can get food on the table. And so my immediate concern is just to apply for a bunch of jobs starting immediately.

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