Updated Nov 22, 2022 - Economy

Twitter tech glitches mount as staffers depart

Illustration of a hashtag with a downward arrow.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Waves of layoffs and departures from Twitter last week led many users to fear the service might face a sudden crash of some kind, as hashtags such as #RIPTwitter and #TwitterDown trended in the U.S.

Yes, but: It's far more likely that the social network will experience an increasing volume of glitches, delays and decay around the edges, as small breakdowns pile up and the teams responsible for fixes have been decimated.

Driving the news: The gutting of half of Twitter's staff and most of its contractors and top executives, along with a slew of rushed product updates over the past two weeks, have left Twitter vulnerable and put users on alert for problems.

The breakdowns so far aren't in the core functions of Twitter — posting and reading messages — but around the edges.

  • Copyright: Twitter’s automated copyright takedown system was no longer functional as of Sunday evening, Forbes reported, allowing users to upload chunks of copyrighted movies that remained online for hours before getting taken down.
  • Hacked accounts: Users who have reported hacked accounts say the company has been slow to respond with solutions to recoup their profiles. One journalist who Axios spoke to said Twitter didn't respond to their report for days, and when it did, couldn't offer a viable solution to recover it.
  • Security: Last week, some users reported problems trying to generate two-factor authentication codes via SMS text messages that would help them log into their accounts.
  • Downloading data: Others reported issues trying to download archives of their data, per Wired.

Advertisers are more concerned than everyday users.

  • Some major advertisers paused their campaigns on Twitter as Musk took the reins.
  • Advertisers are especially worried about a lack of oversight from trust and safety teams that monitored hate speech and misinformation on the platform.
  • Marketers Axios has spoken to over the past week are citing slower responses by the company to reports about bad content appearing on the platform that their ads could appear against.
  • Anonymous reports (like this one) are beginning to emerge suggesting that Twitter's back-end ad technology isn't working right, and users have reported seeing out-of-date ads in their feeds.

As more senior sales executives quit Twitter, advertisers tell Axios it's become difficult to understand who within Twitter they should be consulting with about optimizing their campaigns, or even pausing them.

  • GroupM, the world's biggest media buyer, is warning marketers that until Twitter addresses a slew of problems impacting content moderation, it remains a "high risk" media buy, per Digiday.
  • Ad agency executives have told Axios that Musk's decision to reinstate Donald Trump's account would cause many clients to pull their campaigns from the platform.

Between the lines: Many of the warnings about Twitter's technical problems are coming from current and recently-departed employees who say teams that were responsible for managing Twitter's infrastructure have been gutted.

  • One former staffer said that Musk's mass layoffs earlier this month impacted around 90% of the product and engineering "health" team that's responsible for helping content moderators review reported cases of abuse.
  • Of the 560 people in that group, only around 60 remained as of last week, the source said. That team was building a system to help Twitter to respond to reports faster.

Be smart: Experts warn that the World Cup, which began Sunday, could be a particularly important stress point for the app's hosting capabilities.

  • In 2018, Twitter saw 150 billion impressions during the global soccer event, making it one of the company's heaviest traffic periods ever.

Musk himself doesn't seem worried about problems caused by sweeping changes to support teams and products.

  • He continues to boast that Twitter is seeing higher usage under his ownership and mock brands and users concerned about the return of Trump's account.

What to watch: Twitter may face bigger technical challenges as Musk tries to roll out new programs and features on the platform.

  • If those changes cause bugs or problems, software veterans argue, that's when Musk will most need the expertise of the developers who've been laid off or left.

Of note: Monday night, Musk announced a second delay of his top-priority new $8-a-month subscription plan that comes with a verified blue check.

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