You’re fired! It is one of the most used expressions in English to fire workers. There are those who maintain that it originates at the beginning of the 20th century, when the founder of NCR (company of register machines, points of sale, automatic teller machines, etc.), John Henry Patterson, set fire to the desk of his salesman Thomas J. Watson (who later run by IBM) to indicate that he had been fired.
On October 27, the richest man in the world according to Bloomberg and ForbesThe South African Elon Musk completed the purchase of Twitter for 44,000 million dollars. That same day he made important moves among the firm’s employees and fired at least the company’s executive and financial directors. A week later he announced in a tweet the massive layoff of 50 percent of the workforce – some 3,700 developers and engineers – and stated that Twitter had daily losses in the order of 4 million dollars.
In the first half of November, car manufacturers such as General Motors, Audi or Volkswagen withdrew their advertising from the company acquired by Musk. The United States food corporation General Mills, the United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer or the United States Mexican conglomerate Mondelez International Inc. (manufacturer of Oreo, Toblerone, Milka, among other important brands) did the same. The argument for the withdrawal of advertising has been the uncertainty about what Twitter’s mission will be and, above all, the business model it will have in the “Musk era”.
Musk calls himself an “absolutist of freedom of expression”, in contrast to his predecessors at the helm of the platform, and this not only frightened companies that have momentarily withdrawn their advertising (an estimated 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue come from advertisements), but also to human rights and communication organizations, and to journalists, insofar as it is possible to predict an increase in hate speech and also false news (fake news).
From the same October 27, there were many who put Musk to the test: the word Nigger, a derogatory and racist way of referring to African-Americans, became a trend. The same thing happened with anti-Semitic messages. Far-right users began spreading QAnon messages (a far-right American conspiracy theory that claims the world is ruled by anti-Donald Trump pedophiles and is flagged by the FBI as a potential terrorist threat). However, the champion of freedom of expression ordered the removal of all parody accounts that used his name.
Another matter that generated controversy and insecurity among users and advertisers has been the highly promoted Twitter Blue, which is nothing more than being able to buy a verified account for $7.99 a month (of which until now only had prominent figures from culture, the politics, entertainment or information media and journalists). In a few hours, verified accounts of various companies and personalities began to appear. A “verified” account of Eli Lilly and Company, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, announced on November 10 that insulin – one of its main products – would become free. The joke caused the fall of at least 4 percentage points in the stock market of the pharmaceutical company (a loss of value of 14,000 million dollars). A fake Lockheed Martin announced that it would stop selling its weapons to the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia “until there is further investigation into their human rights abuses.” The actual company fell 5 points on the stock market.
In recent days, a “verified” Nintendo account posted a Mario holding up his middle finger, one in the name of basketball player Lebron James requested to be transferred from the Lakers and a fake but verified George Bush missed killing Iraqis. Nestlé tweeted: “We stole your water and then we sell it to you.” The purchase of accounts with the tick celeste was put on hiatus less than 48 hours after its release. The creation of the announced “content moderation council” is still awaited, about which little is known and that Musk announced that it would bring together “very diverse points of view.”
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, president of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, announced the layoff of 11,000 workers (something like 13 percent of the total workforce) a week after the layoffs on Twitter. In an open letter to his employees, Zuckerberg alleged last week that the layoffs were due to a drop in stocks, as well as problems in the ICT sector in general. Meta had allocated 10,000 million dollars this year to the promoted “metaverse.” The idea, or whim, of the president of Meta could have worried investors and advertisers. There are still no results that show the success of Zuckerberg’s decision to try to get away from the world of digital social networks.
In addition, the threat of Tiktok increases over Meta, as the youngest prefer it to share videos over Instragram. The App Tracking Transparency (Apple privacy tools) launched in 2021 make it difficult to track to show advertising segmented by audiences, something that can predict an even greater recession in Zuckerberg’s company. Meta’s shares plunged 25 percent at the end of October, according to Bloomberg. It is a 71 percent accumulated annual, points out Los Angeles Timeswhich has led to the current value of its shares being similar to that of 2015.
The other tech giant forecasting layoffs is Amazon, owned by the former world’s richest man Jeff Bezos. The New York Times reported on Monday the 14th that the company planned to lay off approximately 10,000 people in corporate and technological jobs as of that day. Amazon has a workforce of about 1.5 million employees, so the layoffs would represent about 3 percent of Amazon’s corporate employees and less than 1 percent of the global workforce. Most of the layoffs would occur in the device unit that integrates the Alexa assistant and the human resources unit. Bezos predicts a recession in the US economy and cites it as the reason for the layoffs. Guardian he quotes a tweet from the owner of Amazon as saying: “Yes, the odds in this economy tell you to batten down the hatches.”
The pandemic caused an excessive increase in the use of digital platforms, such as Amazon, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and caused companies to employ thousands of people to keep pace with the growth in use as well as in the sale of advertising, which it marked the highest points in value that companies in the technological world could have generated in all of history. Layoffs, even in the thousands and in very large percentage terms, as in the case of Twitter, do not seem to move the needle in the global ICT job market. It is highly likely that, due to the high demand for labor in the sector, the laid-off workers will be hired by other companies in the industry. However, the eventual recession of the United States economy or the withdrawal of large corporations in advertising may be showing that we are living in a moment of a paradigm shift in the business model of the technological giants.
In the same way that Zuckerberg fully entered the game of international politics with the use of the data and metadata of his users to influence electoral results, such as Brexit or the victory of Donald Trump in the United States (among other elections ), Musk made his bet on politics by calling in a recent tweet for “independent voters” to vote for a Republican-majority Congress on the grounds that the presidency is Democratic. According to Musk, “shared power curbs the worst excesses.”
Day by day we see how algorithms are optimized to increase social control. The technological giants are very clear about the power they hold when it comes to influencing electoral, economic and social processes. And the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom or China know very well what is possible to achieve using the information that these companies collect.
On the opposite sidewalk there are billions of users spending hours in front of the screens and social and political organizations that seem not to pay much attention to what happens in cyberspace or to understand the power of algorithms and the social impact that their use generates. . There are few legislative advances in terms of regulating the use of data and metadata at a global level. Likewise, we see workers of technology companies helpless in terms of legislation. Dispersed, working from different countries, without the possibility of coming together to defend their rights.
Where are the technological giants, owners of our data and algorithms, going to analyze or sell them? Is the social control paradigm changing? Should social and political organizations look up to give rise to strategies that face what is happening today, but, above all, also what is to come? Have we given up the battle and feel that we’re fired of the system?