Elon Musk Aims Engineers Closer Home, Less Focus On India, Says Former Twitter India Head

India was the potential growth market for Twitter but the cuts now looks to indicate no such focus, with Musk intent on monetizing from a company he paid $44 billion for.

File photo of Tesla chief Elon Musk. (Photo: File)
Elon Musk in charge of Twitter (Photo: File)

New Delhi: In Elon Musk’s decision to lay off almost 90 percent of Twitter India’s staff, which includes the engineering team, may be a clue that he wants engineers hired closer home – in the United States. The former Twitter India Head Manish Maheshwari points to this and says that Musk may be indicating further that he does not for care for the company’s growth in India, at least for now. 

Just a little over a week since Musks’ takeover of the micro blogging site, it has been nothing short of chaos. While there has been worldwide layoffs, with Head of Safety and Integrity at Twitter, Yoel Roth, placing the number to at least 50 percent of the workforce being removed, employees in India were reportedly left to just a dozen.

India was the potential growth market for Twitter but the cuts now looks to indicate no such focus, with Musk intent on monetizing from a company he paid $44 billion for. The New York Times had reported on the job cuts a day prior to the ill managed emails of November 4 that the new boss would have decided to send out.

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Along with a number of product developments, and the $8 charge for verification, The Times had said that a Twitter employee posted a link to a “severance calculations” document in a company Slack channel. It further said it saw a copy of the message which noted that there was a “master list” which included the number 3,738.

Globally, Twitter reduced its staff by about half, coming to a cut of about 3,700 workers. Maheshwari, who quit as Twitter India head in December of last year saw many of his own hires fired in this new move. “There’s hardly anyone left in the India team…” which requires one to question “would he care about India enough?”.

The fact remains that he “grossly overpaid” for Twitter which makes it critical for Musk to focus on revenue generation which in India may not be as successful, adds Maheshwari in a conversation with India Ahead.

Employees found themselves locked out of their work accounts remotely, informed only via an email that they would be alerted whether they had been laid off. It even went on to ask those on their way to work, to return home, with offices closed and badge access locked.

This treatment has been widely criticized and Maheshwari calls it “inhuman” the way the management went about in their actions. They could have, he adds, kept in mind people’s dignity and given them respect while making the cuts.

For Musk the reasoning to lay off staff, despite the contentious way he went about it, is the “massive drop in revenue.” He claimed that “activist groups” were “pressuring advertisers” which had led to the revenue plunge, “even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists”. In the tweet he further went on to allege “They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

In India the very aspect of free speech and how it has allowed fake news, to bigotry and hate being shared on the site has been a matter of great debate. Sites like Twitter have also seen government of India’s demands in blocking handles that it deems as anti-national or that promoting fake news content.  

According to responses in the Lok Sabha by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology the government had gotten 9,849 accounts blocked on Twitter in 2020. That was the highest number since 2014 when the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government took over the Centre.

What was of further controversy was when in mid-2021 the Delhi police, controlled by the central government, reached Twitter’s offices in the Capital city and Gurgaon. The Police were seeking information on Twitter’s decision to label tweets BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as “manipulated media.”

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Twitter says it “may label Tweets that include media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated.” How Musk and the Indian governments relations pan out would have to be watched for, and importantly how the billionaire envisions the future of free speech in a heavily volatile world. For now, around the globe, the job cuts and the manner in which it was carried out is a matter of concern with questions on what else Musk will do.

In the US a lawsuit has been filed against Twitter, that it violated worker protection laws, including the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act as well as the California WARN Act, both of which require 60 days of advance notice.