A Twitter Pill To Swallow | Crooked Media
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November 06, 2022
What A Day
A Twitter Pill To Swallow

In This Episode

  • Elon Musk, who recently acquired Twitter for $44 billion, laid off about half of the company’s staff on Friday. The move also impacted teams that moderate content on the site. New York Times technology reporter Mike Isaac says that’s raising concerns about how well the platform can combat misinformation ahead of the midterm elections.
  • And in headlines: the UN’s annual climate summit opened in Egypt, President Biden’s top national security advisor has reportedly been in talks with his Russian counterparts over the war in Ukraine, and the National Park Service issued an unusual warning about psychedelic toads.


Show Notes:


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For a transcript of this episode, please visit crooked.com/whataday




Erin Ryan: It’s Monday, November 7th. I’m Erin Ryan. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day. Where we don’t know who created BeReal, but we’re trying to get them to be really sure to vote. 


Erin Ryan: Josie, this is giving me pokemon go to the polls vibes and I do not like it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I feel like we’re that meme of Steve Buscemi trying to be like a 10th grader, you know. 


Erin Ryan: How do you do, fellow kids? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, exactly. [music break] On today’s show, the United Nations annual climate summit kicked off in Egypt. Plus, the National Park Service wants hikers to stop licking psychedelic toads. 


Erin Ryan: Ugh, the Killjoys. But first, it’s Election Day Eve. If you’re like me, you probably think of this day as the least fun Eve in the calendar year. It’s like the sowen of known unknowns, the night that the veil between punditry and reality is at its thinnest. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, I didn’t really know what that meant, but Erin explained it to me and I learned a lot. She is my own personal Wikipedia. I suggest looking it up. Anyway, every election is its own animal, but as far as animals go, this is a particularly weird one. It’s like a liger. Or like a– 


Erin Ryan: –A jackalope?


Josie Duffy Rice: A jackalope! 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, but jackalopes aren’t real. 


Josie Duffy Rice: We have so much information. Not about jackalopes, but about this election. People at all points in the political spectrum are speaking confidently about what they’re pretty sure is going to happen. But the truth is, nobody knows what’s going to happen. Absolutely nobody. 


Erin Ryan: Hmm. That’s exactly right. What we do know, a lot of people are voting early in record setting numbers for a midterm election. What we don’t know is who these people are or who they voted for. We do know that Republicans have nominated several candidates who are, to borrow a phrase from Mitch McConnell, low quality. But we also know that polling shows that a shocking number of low quality candidates are within striking distance of victory. We know that on election night, which is still covered like a sporting event by political media, we probably won’t know who won in several key races. We know that there will probably be recounts and challenges in court, but we don’t know who or how or where. We know that a third of the Senate, the entirety of the House and several key governorships and state level races are up for grabs and the consequences of the wrong people winning could be catastrophic. 


Josie Duffy Rice: To make matters even more complicated, thanks to some big changes at a certain big tech company and the days following Election Day, it might be difficult to parse what actually happened and what is disinformation. And that tech company, of course, is Twitter. On Friday, just days after closing his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion dollars, Elon Musk laid off half of the company, a total of about 3700 people. Most of them found out they’d been laid off when their email access was shut down Thursday, though it took another day to receive official word. At least one person found out they’d be let go during a work call when they discovered they’d been locked out of company systems. Not cool. According to the New York Times, quote, “Rarely have layoffs this deep made by a single individual at a tech company.” Musk tweeted about the drastic decision to layoff so many people, saying regarding Twitter’s reduction in force. Unfortunately, there is no choice when the company is losing over $4 million dollars a day. 


Erin Ryan: Mmm. You feel like there’s maybe a choice. I feel like Elon Musk has so much money that he could maybe afford to lose $4 million a day. 


Josie Duffy Rice: What is the point of being the richest guy on earth? 


Erin Ryan: If you can’t lose 4 million, didn’t he spend like $70,700 on a Halloween costume? You can afford to lose $4 million dollars a day. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The way people become the richest person on earth is not by being generous with their losses. 


Erin Ryan: That’s true. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You know. 


Erin Ryan: So quickly, can you tell us what jobs were eliminated in the mass layoffs? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Well, according to reports, the layoffs hit many departments and divisions at Twitter, including engineering, machine learning, the content moderation team, otherwise known as trust and safety division, sales, advertising, etc. Some weren’t hit as hard as others. For example, the Trust and Safety Division had just 15% of its workforce cut “just” quote unquote. So that’s a huge number and a huge number to cut days before an extremely contentious election rife with misinformation. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, if I cut 15% off of my body. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Erin Ryan: That would be a significant amount. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Agreed. 


Erin Ryan: 15% is a lot. It’s a lot.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s a lot. It’s a lot. And you know, if you’re cutting people from the Trust and Safety Division, I feel like you should take stock of your decisions, have some reflection, make some choices, different ones. As for who is affected, everyone from young employees just starting out in tech to experienced professionals who had been at Twitter for years. One former employee, a woman named Rachel Bond, is eight months pregnant and realized she’d been fired on Thursday night when she no longer had access to her work laptop. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, that sounds extremely illegal. Yikes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: At least immoral. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And a nightmare. The execution here seems fairly chaotic in addition to being amoral. So where do things stand now? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. As for what happens next, some of that is kind of unclear. And we’ll talk a little bit about this in just a moment. But what we do know is that Musk already regrets laying off some of those people. So according to Bloomberg, Musk is now, quote, “reaching out to dozens of employees who lost their jobs and asking them to return.” [laughter] Some of those who are being asked to return were laid off by mistake. 


Erin Ryan: Oh. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Others were let go before management realized that their work and experience may be necessary to build the new features Musk envisions. This is why you don’t come into a job, stay for a few days and then decide to eliminate half the jobs because like– 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: –You don’t really know who’s necessary yet. 


Erin Ryan: I, yeah, he doesn’t really know how things work. Like on your first day of medical school, they’re not sending you into brain surgery. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. 


Erin Ryan: You know what I’m saying? And even if they were, most med students would be like, I am not qualified– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Erin Ryan: –To be cutting half this person’s brain out. Maybe I should do a little bit more learning before I take the scalpel and go to town. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. 


Erin Ryan: But anyway, he is the world’s greatest businessman, ladies and gentlemen.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Uh. That’s what I’ve heard. So, Erin, you and I had the chance to speak with Mike Isaac. He’s a tech reporter for the New York Times, and he’s been covering all of this Twitter madness. We started out by asking him what he’s heard from current and former tweeps about what happened over the last few days. 


Mike Isaac: Totally insane beyond parody. And they basically have no internal communication because most of the communications team has been laid off by Elon. So they’re looking to either snooping in sort of slack files or basically looking at the press reports to see what leaks have come out to inform them about, like what their team status is or what’s going on. And then Elon’s people have all come in and they don’t trust the existing Twitter folks. So just like culturally, it’s super gnarly right now and no one knows what’s going on. If you’re like cutting teams that keep spam or porn or bots off of the social media site, like your thing is going to go downhill super fast. So I don’t think he has quite grasped that. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Richest man in the world, ladies and gentlemen. So layoffs aren’t particularly uncommon in the tech industry, but this seemed especially heavy handed. And like from what you’re telling us, not very well executed. So what are business and management experts saying about all of this? What assessment are we getting from people in the field? 


Mike Isaac: So last week, this payments startup called Stripe, they did layoffs the same morning basically as as Twitter was announcing their layoffs. And I mean all layoffs are awful, obviously, but like their way was probably the least awful way I’ve seen in a while, which is like, here’s a letter to the company. Here’s all the information you’re going to get an email from us if you are laid off. And here is the like host of benefits that we have for you. And here is the people you can reach out to for finding other jobs or whatever. Just like as transparent as possible. And then Elon’s was just like the opposite. They were basically like, we’re cutting our workforce in half. Many of the sort of emails that were going out, people didn’t either get them or didn’t know whether it was supposed to be sent to them. In the past 24 hours, we’ve been talking to folks that said they realized they laid off people who were more important than they thought they were and they’re starting to reach out to them to like see if they want to come back to the company, which is also like the ultimate insult. So like this is just like the most chaotic series of layoffs I’ve ever seen. And they are not uncommon to many industries or like people are always going to be pissed. But the chaos plus the fact that it’s Twitter and like Twitter employees sort of are open and tweet about stuff at work and the industry anyway, I think has sort of compounded that and we get to see it kind of play out more publicly than say it might happen at a at a different company. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Totally. And it feels like particularly irritating that people are like, we don’t know what’s going on. And then meanwhile, he’s responding to every like Tom, Dick and Harry about their random Twitter ideas that he’s like, we’ll be implementing this soon. It’s like, can you actually respond to your employees [laugh] who are confused? 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. The well the trust in safety teams which manage content moderation. And Mike, you alluded to this before, that they were cut as well. So basically the people who watch out for misinformation and hate speech aren’t there anymore? So this is pretty bad timing considering the midterm elections are tomorrow. Are we already seeing the effects of this team being cut? 


Mike Isaac: It’s funny, I’ve been sort of watching just like trying to keep an eye on what’s happening on Twitter over the weekend, because when you cut your workforce in half, who knows what’s going to happen immediately? And like this stuff breaks really fast. And I, I have talked to folks who said, look, the people on the sort of frontlines of moderating this stuff are just not all the same that they used to be. They’re not all there, you can’t catch this stuff in the same way as before. I talked to a person that said, you know, for all the talk in the valley about artificial intelligence doing the work to catch bad actors and spammers and bots or whatever, a lot of Twitter is really human powered, you know, and caught by human moderators, whether it’s um someone contracted out in the Philippines or someone inside a Twitter HQ. So like when you cut your legs out from under you, we are going to see and are pretty much already seeing the effects of that and more stuff slip through and longer times to respond when some big account gets like taken over or hacked and starts spewing like slurs or bitcoin scams or whatever shit that like just goes out there, you know? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. 


Mike Isaac: So it’s just going to take longer and not be as good, I think. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So one thing there’s been all this talk about is the blue checkmarks, because the company will soon start charging people $7.99 a month to be verified. Yesterday, the company said it’s delaying this rollout until after the midterms, because people have raised concerns that the new batch subscription could lead to more accounts where people are pretending to be celebrities or lawmakers. How does Twitter plan to protect that from happening? And is this plan that anybody can get verified? I like don’t really understand what this is. 


Mike Isaac: I’m glad you’re asking, because it has been like a central thing that’s driving me insane. Like Twitter verified has already been kind of a shit show for a very long time. Like, no one really knows what it means. The process of getting verified has always been kind of back channel. There was not like a standard of consistency that has really held over the years, and I think in later years they tried to maintain at least a little more of that and say, you know, you need your identity sort of checked out and there’s a little bit more of a process to this is the person who they say they are. But like he’s throwing a wrench in those gears by saying anyone gets a blue badge if you pay eight bucks a month, basically. Right? So that, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that you’re Senator So-and-so. It just means that you have $8 on a credit card. And that’s like not to me at least that’s not the point of what the Blue Badge are useful for, at least on the suface. Like for us, like media folks or journalists or whatever. That actually does mean something because you can at least say, this is me. It’s not Erin McBot, you know, trying to post as me on some other thing. So they haven’t explained how they’re going to create a new version of that. If they’re going to create a new version of that, someone was saying like, you’re going to get a second badge underneath if you’re like a senator. And I’m just like, what do we, it feels like badges all the way down–


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Mike Isaac: –sort of thing. It doesn’t make any sense to me. 


Erin Ryan: Elon Musk has also claimed that Twitter is a place for free speech, which to many means that people are free to say whatever they want, whether it’s true or not. So how concerned should we be about Twitter being a fertile place for dis- and misinformation about the upcoming election specifically? Is there anything that average people can do to stop the slow motion trainwreck? And Mike, how worried are you personally? 


Mike Isaac: [laughing] Well, the one positive development, I would say is that a pause, that means someone inside of Twitter or multiple people were like, okay, this is enough of a disaster that we don’t need to compound it by launching like verified stuff the day before the election. So they’re stopping that and we just broke that over the weekend that they’re not going to do that. They’re going to launch this sort of blue badge stuff the day after, which is still problematic because not all elections are done on the day of the election. Right. So like already kind of funky. But I think the basic problem is Elon wants to push all this stuff out super fast and has people doing it under threat of losing their jobs into what is probably going to be a prolonged recession. So everyone’s like, either I’m getting my severance and parachuting out of here or I’m doing what the new boss says, you know, no matter how stupid or problematic or whatever it is, and then we’ll deal with the problems as they come. So you can be a sort of like startup-y move fast break things approach at a small company that doesn’t have like sort of deep societal consequences when you make changes. But like this is a very different thing and Elon is not familiar with any of it. So I’m very, I’m worried, I guess is what I would say. Yeah, it’s weird. And he’s breaking things faster than I thought he would. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That was our conversation with New York Times tech reporter Mike Isaac. We’ll be sure to bring you more updates on this soon, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Erin Ryan: Now, let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Erin Ryan: Representatives from nearly 200 countries are meeting now in Egypt for COP 27. The United Nations annual climate conference. Summit kicked off yesterday and will run through November 18th. One of the most anticipated topics of discussion will be on so-called loss and damage payments. That essentially means rich countries, the ones that produce the most carbon emissions, would compensate developing countries because poorer nations are more likely to bear the brunt of climate fueled disasters. Dozens of world leaders, including President Biden, are scheduled to attend, but Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is sitting it out this year. She called the U.N. Conference’s forums for greenwashing and ineffective for meaningful change. You know what, you got to hand it to Greta. She is not afraid of anybody. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. 


Erin Ryan: She will say–


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. 


Erin Ryan: –Whatever she feels like she needs to say. Not afraid of anybody. 


Josie Duffy Rice: A couple updates on diplomatic efforts related to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Biden’s top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has spoken with aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months. The confidential and unpublicized talks are part of an ongoing effort to de-escalate the conflict and avert the threat of nuclear war. And they’re also notable because diplomatic communication between the U.S. and Russia has been so infrequent since Russia invaded Ukraine, with some top policymakers suggesting that it wouldn’t be useful. Also, sources have told The Washington Post that the Biden administration has asked Ukrainian officials to signal their openness to negotiate with Russia. That’s not because Biden’s team thinks the work can be resolved diplomatically, but rather the move would help Ukraine maintain the moral high ground and continue to receive support from allies around the world. As the conflict rages on. 


Erin Ryan: We saw another early 2000s trend come back this weekend. Ugh enough of them have already come back– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. 


Erin Ryan: –please stop, too many. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Too many. 


Erin Ryan: With the return of scary white powders, showing up in the mail. This time the recipient was the campaign office of Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor. According to CNN, a Lake staffer who opened an envelope on Saturday containing the unknown substance was under medical supervision as of yesterday. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is Lake’s Democratic opponent, condemned the incident and also spoke out against any threatening behavior toward Lake or her staff. Now, I got to say, Josie, I do not think that if the roles were reversed here, Kari Lake would extend the same courtesy to Katie Hobbs, because Kari Lake just days ago was making fun of uh Paul Pelosi for being attacked in his home. 


Josie Duffy Rice: One of the country’s most prolific insult comics has fallen off. This Saturday, former President Donald Trump debuted a new nickname for Ron DeSantis, and the nickname was not good. 


[clip of Donald Trump] Trump at 71, Ron DeSanctimonious at 10%. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, gosh. Did Ivanka could get a thesaurus for her birthday or something? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly, like know your audience. They don’t know what sanctimonious means. 


Erin Ryan: No. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Not at the rally at least. Trump made these comments at a rally in Pennsylvania, and his reasons for turning on DeSantis are pretty obvious. The Florida governor is widely seen as Trump’s primary rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. And at the rally, Trump all but confirmed his intentions to run for a third time. And if you want to know what day you should bury your phone in a deep hole and throw your TV in the bathtub. Axios reported last week he is gearing up to announce his campaign a week from now on November 14th. It’s possible that the announcement will come sooner. At a rally in Miami yesterday, Trump appeared to suggest he would announce his candidacy tonight. 


Erin Ryan: Okay. First of all, Wrong DeSantis is right there. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s right there. 


Erin Ryan: Wrong. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You’re totally right. 


Erin Ryan: W-R-O-N-G. And you just add a W to the beginning and a G to the ending, Wrong DeSantis. Second of all, I sort of feel like, you know that meme where you zoom in on the older like Kung Fu Master and he’s saying, let them fight. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: That’s kind of how I feel about this whole situation. Yeah, let them. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I agree. 


Erin Ryan: And the stress of the midterms may have you longing for an escape, but there’s one thing you should not do to relax. Lick the Sonoran Desert toad. It is not how I thought that sentence would end. That’s according to a warning put out last week from the National Park Service. These large toads secrete a toxin that makes people sick, but the secretions also contain a hallucinogen called five meth oxy DMT, which can make you trip. Wildlife officials in New Mexico have classified this toad as threatened, at least partly because of its appeal to people who want to, as they say, hear Kermit’s magic banjo. How roughly are these people licking these toads [laughter] that the toads themselves, the large toads, [laughter] for that matter, are threatened by being licked? Gently lick the toad my dudes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: No. 


Erin Ryan: If you must lick the toad, lick it gently. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Think about being the toad. Large other animal picks you up, gently licks you, sets you down, then you get picked up later. You’re just trying to chill. Don’t lick me. 


Erin Ryan: Okay sure. But if you must lick– 


Josie Duffy Rice: If you must lick me lick me– 


Erin Ryan: –lick me gently. [laughter]


Josie Duffy Rice: Jesus Christ. 


Erin Ryan: Please. If you see this toad, there’s only one thing you should do as a good steward of the environment, and that is set it up with a computer playing the iTunes visualizer and leave it alone. I think that’s great. That sounds much better than being licked. That’s what you should do. 


Josie Duffy Rice: This is a daily news podcast [laughter] and we just said–


Erin Ryan: Oh I’m so sorry. 


Josie Duffy Rice: –gently lick the toads. Happy Monday. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, Happy Monday. And those are the headlines. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Trip sit a toad and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just the early stuff from insult comic Donald Trump like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan. 


[spoken together] And be really sure to vote. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Look. I think everybody should be really sure to vote. And I think after you vote, you should look up the Wikipedia page of Trump’s insults. 


Erin Ryan: That sounds fun. 


Josie Duffy Rice: They’re pretty funny. Some of them. Some of them are bad. Some of them are good. It’s a big range. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.