As reports come in hour after hour of mass resignations, office closuresemergency meetings and general Muskian chaos, former Twitter employees are warning of impending problems, and users across the United States are bracing for the impending death of the platform. Fairly reasonable, given the massive departures really impacted the teams in charge of traffic, content moderation, front-end and back-end engineering, content moderation, 24/7 on-call technical support, managing the community, system libraries, story retention, trust and security policy, and user information. The infrastructure has proven to be strong enough that the social network probably won’t completely collapse, at least not yet. What could happen instead, like some old tweeps and digitals observers felt is that continual bugs and issues will accumulate without enough workgroups to fix them.
Already, Twitter user bases outside of the United States are facing these issues. “Twitter is very slow in India, Indonesia and many other countries”, Elon Musk tweeted on Tuesday. “That’s a fact, not a ‘statement’. 10-15 seconds to refresh home line tweets is common. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, especially on Android phones. The only question is how much delay is due to bandwidth/latency/application. This is not a new problem: Indian desktop users reported numerous service interruptions even earlier this month.
Musk may recognize the concerns here, but he’s also rid his company of people who know what to do about it. If you think US workforce cuts and quits are bad — which they are — you should see how Musk has cleaned up in other countries. Twitter services for the entire African continent were taken down just four days after it opened its office in Ghana. Around 90% of Twitter staff in India, which includes the website’s third-largest market, have also been left jobless. According to Rest of World, “the company laid off virtually all of its marketing and communications teams” across Southeast and East Asia, while massive layoffs also affected offices in Mexico and Brazil. . These regions claim some of the largest numbers of Twitter users; these countries are where the app plays a excessive role in national discourse, activism, politics and culture. Not coincidentally, these are also the places where tweeters reported slowdowns in the overall user experience, bugs when logging into the service, and mistakenly restricted accounts.
No two Twitter experiences (or streams) are the same, and some user reports of website errors in various countries on Thursday night were self-confessed jokes. But as posters gathered to mourn what happened to the platform, an occasion Musk celebrated as a “twitter usage record lol”—there seems to be a higher than usual number of network outages around the world. Hundreds of such reports arrived that night from key countries including Singapore, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa, according to data retrieved by Downdetector. These are, of course, some of the very countries where misinformation and disinformation are most rampant, where censorship and shutdowns occur regularly, and where dedicated knowledge workers are most needed to ward off such disasters. They are also countries that really love football, leading some fans to worry about what could happen online when the World Cup kicks off on Sunday.
In July, Twitter suffered its worst global outage in years, with services rendered completely unavailable everywhere for nearly three hours in total. If it took this long to fix the network at a time when Twitter still had 7,500 employees, what will happen when the next outage hits and only a few thousand people are at the helm?
Obviously, that won’t be where Musk is directing his energy. The day after the company’s massive resignation, he was tweeting about new features: the “deboosting” and demonetization of “negative/hateful tweets”, and the reinstatement of suspended accounts belonging to Kathy Griffin, Jordan Petersen and Babylon Bee (but not Donald Trump or Alex Jones). The New York Times further reported that Musk was “considering shutting down one of Twitter’s three major U.S. data centers,” which would leave the remaining servers “with potentially less backup compute capacity in the event of an outage.” (Which could easily happen!) This, despite the fact that after Musk went through his own round of layoffs, no one was left to monitor the servers at Twitter’s New York outpost, which led to the room they were staying in overheating and knocking out Wi-Fi capacity. “Breakages are already happening slowly and building up,” an employee told The Washington Post.
It therefore makes sense that Australia’s online regulator is working with other government departments in Fiji, Ireland and the UK “to create new laws tackling abuse, harmful content and illegal content on social media”, reported the Canberra Times this week. (The official account of the French Embassy in Fijifor his part, is preparing to quit Twitter altogether.) After all, someone needs to keep an eye on the service while Elon Musk continues to screw things up, even if the prospect of such regulation also raises complicated questions about freedom of speech.
For what it’s worth, every time I tried to dig up Musk’s tweet urging users to scroll through Twitter for comments from the World Cup this weekend, I was constantly told that the tweet was no longer available. so much for that, then.
Future Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy and society.