Twitter’s nixed Head of Trust and Safety has called working for Elon Musk the ‘hardest experience’ of her career in a bombshell interview.
Provided to NBC News Friday, the statement comes roughly four months removed from Ella Irwin’s sudden resignation in June – making her, the second person to hold that role to quit, since Musk’s takeover roughly a year ago.
A month later, in November 2022, Irwin accepted the position – before leaving some seven months later as Musk publicly criticized moderation actions taken at the company around the issue of misgendering.
Amid Elon Musk’s chaotic $44billion acquisition, Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety, stepped down – paving the way for criticism over lax protections against content since Musk’s buyout.
One such amendment was the removal of certain language from policies prohibiting ‘misgendering,’ spurring Irwin to write in June that it had become clear ‘there was no longer alignment’ between her ‘nonnegotiable principles’ and the company.
Twitter ‘s nixed Head of Trust and Safety Ella Irwin – a vet of the industry who held prominent moderation positions at both Amazon and Google – called working for Elon Musk the ‘hardest experience’ of her career in an interview Friday – months after suddenly resigning from the role
In her first interview since, she provided more insight into why she left – and slammed what she called a series of ‘terrible’ decisions by the billionaire she says have made the company worse
In her first interview since, she provided more insight into why she left – and slammed what she called a series of ‘terrible’ decisions by the billionaire that she says have made the company worse.
‘It absolutely was the hardest experience that I’ve gone through in my career,’ An alum of firms like Amazon and Google, the 48-year-old told the station:
She added how during her roughly half-year stint, Musk, 52, excelled at ‘questioning everything, boiling things down to first principles, removing constraints’ – but was more driven by emotion than business acumen.
‘There’s more emotion behind his decisions than I would have maybe expected before I met him,’ explained Irwin, whose career with companies like JPMorgan and Bank of America spans decades.
‘I think that contributes to some of the impulsiveness,’ she added, before pivoting to her old boss’s famously flippant behavior.
The former risk management director of eHarmony recalled: ‘I think there were a lot of situations in which I would have handled things very differently.’
Alluding to the series of polls and seemingly slipshod decisions wrought by the CEO over the past 12 months, she said: ‘There were things that I wouldn’t have tweeted in the middle of the night, [and] there were certainly things that could have been stated better.’
The industry vet proceeded to recall how Musk at first came into the company with ‘startup energy,’ but instead fell into the trap of engaging in a mass layoff just a few weeks into his tenure.
Referring to the cut that saw the firm lose half of its then-12,000 strong workforce as a cost-cutting measure, Irwin, who also held prominent roles at Bank of American and JPMorgan Chase, said: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that.’
The statement comes roughly four months removed from Irwin’s sudden resignation in June – months after her predecessor, Yoel Roth (pictured), also stepped down – paving the way for criticism over lax protections against content since Musk’s buyout
As Irwin took over for Roth, Twitter dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, the advisory group of around 100 independent civil, human rights and other organizations the firm formed in 2016 to address hate speech, child exploitation, suicide, self-harm and other problems on the site
Among her issues with Musk’s ownership, Irwin said, was his mission to give precedence to ‘user choice’ – a decision she said is biting him as misinformation and terrorist content pertaining to the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to make rounds
Another move made as Irwin took over for Roth, was Twitter dissolvement of its Trust and Safety Council, the advisory group of roughly 100 civil, human rights and other organizations the firm formed to address hate speech, child exploitation, suicide, and posts promoting self-harm on the site.
These decisions, Irwin remembered, proved problematic – and helped her come to her already aired conclusion that ‘there was no longer alignment’ between the firm now known as X and the ‘nonnegotiable principles’ she’s amassed over the years.
Among them was the aforementioned of misgendering – posts that purposely used the wrong pronouns for transgender individuals – and ‘this notion of freedom of speech versus freedom of reach,’ she said.
Irwin went on to explain: ‘It was important to me that there was an understanding that hate speech, for example, violent graphic content, things like that, were not promoted, advertised, amplified.’
Other issues with Musk’s ownership, she said, was his so-called mission to give precedence to ‘user choice’ – a decision she said is biting him as misinformation and terrorist content pertaining to the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to make rounds.
‘I’m a big believer in giving people the ability to make the decisions that are right for them,’ she said – adding, ‘who they want to follow, what they don’t want to see, they should be able to create and choose their own adventure.’
Since Musk’s acquisition, Twitter has cut costs dramatically and laid off thousands of employees, including many who had worked on efforts to prevent harmful and illegal content, protect election integrity, and surface accurate information on the site
Musk has been in charge of Twitter since his takeover in October 2022
She went on to call the current phenomenon with misinformation ‘extremely upsetting,’ as the company now faces an investigation from the European Commission on the matter.
Conceding how X is not the only platform facing such struggles, she told NBC: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that there are a lot of people heads down, doing everything they can to solve for this.’
But, she quickly added, ‘I think about the damage that misinformation at scale can do to the product experience, the customer experience, to society.
‘It’s one of the most important problems we need to solve for,’ she said.
Of a prospective fix to the site’s current woes, Irwin said: ‘It can’t be your one solution – it’s one of a whole toolbox of things that needs to happen.’
She also conceded that Musk – despite cutting costs dramatically at the Silicon Valley company – is very good at questioning everything, [and] boiling things down to first principles, [while] removing constraints,
‘That can be very powerful when you need to drive a lot of change very quickly.’
She went on to state what was the final straw that led her to leave the company in June – Musk allegedly floating the idea to eliminate the ability to block videos on the site, which was pulled two months after her resignation in August
‘This was a mistake by many people at Twitter,’ Musk wrote of the Matt Walsh-directed What Is A Woman, which moderators in June said contained two scenes categorized as ‘hateful conduct’ that went against the site’s terms of service, before sharing it himself for all to see
The next day, Musk shared the documentary himself – and said he had removed any restrictions on the video. Within hours, outlets reported that Irwin was leaving the company
She went on to state what was the final straw that led her to leave the company in June – Musk allegedly floating the idea to eliminate the ability to block videos on the site, which was pulled two months after her resignation in August.
At the time, Musk has been accused of flouting free speech for reneging on a deal to air a Daily Wire-funded film over claims it ‘misgendered’ trans people – claims the CEO later shot down by calling the decision a ‘mistake’ made by his staffers.
‘This was a mistake by many people at Twitter,’ Musk wrote of the Matt Walsh-directed What Is A Woman, which moderators in June said contained two scenes categorized as ‘hateful conduct’ that went against the site’s terms of service.
Musk, at the time, disagreed with his staffers’ assessment, writing: ‘Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws.’
The next day, Musk shared the documentary himself – and said he had removed any restrictions on the video.
Within hours, outlets reported that Irwin was leaving.
She told NBC of the decision: ‘I don’t want to have a negative experience every time I log into Twitter.’
Four months later, she said she stands by her decision.
She told the station: ‘I’ve worked every day since I was 14 years old, and with the exception of a few short vacations a year, I haven’t really ever had a real break even between jobs, so I wanted to give myself this time.
‘Having said that, I have been talking to a few companies recently,’ she added, not elaborating on those prospective opportunities.
She did, however say she would likely never return to X – but would not completely rule out such a possibility.
Irwin told the outlet: ‘You never say never, right? But I think there would have to be a lot of things that would have to change.
‘Companies change, leadership teams change, a lot of things happen — but I don’t know that that would happen anytime soon.’
After Musk assumed control of Twitter in October 2022, he fired Twitter’s executive leadership and dismantled its board. Twitter then conducted four rounds of broad employee layoffs, slashing its headcount by about 80 percent, from an estimated 7,800 to about 1,500
Twitter laid off more than half of its workforce as a cost-cutting measure after Musk acquired the company in October.
The company has already been sued for allegedly failing to pay severance, but those cases involve breach of contract claims and not the benefits law being cited by McMillian, who was laid off in January.
The company has maintained it has paid ex-employees in full.
The lawsuit, meanwhile – the latest in a series of legal actions against Twitter – claims layoffs affected around 6,000 individuals.
Kate Mueting, the lawyer representing McMillian, this summer said Musk – who this week has made headlines after Facebook-owner Meta launched rival service Threads – failed to uphold severance plans set in place before his multibillion-dollar takeover.
‘Musk initially represented to employees that under his leadership Twitter would continue to abide by the severance plan.
‘He apparently made these promises knowing that they were necessary to prevent mass resignations that would have threatened the viability of the merger and the vitality of Twitter itself.’
A pending lawsuit filed last month further accuses Twitter of also failing to pay millions of dollars in bonuses it owes to remaining employees. In that case, Twitter has said the claims lack merit.
The company is also facing a series of other lawsuits stemming from another round layoffs that began last year, including claims that it targeted women and workers with disabilities.
Twitter has denied wrongdoing in the cases in which it has filed responses. It is now facing an investigation in Europe concerning recently circulated misinformation.