The duties of Ella Irwin, the new Twitter VP appointed by Elon Musk as head of trust and safety, include reducing harmful content like hate speech, offering opinions on account suspensions and bans, and occasionally acting as the platform’s de facto spokesperson.
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Ella Irwin worked for Amazon for four years before Elon Musk promoted her to one of his most senior lieutenants at Twitter. Her passion there earned her both respect and fear. Her emails would arrive at all hours under the constant pressure. Her first week, she “made me cry,” a former worker told The Daily Beast. The “cry room” was one of the office’s rooms.
It wasn’t all Irwin’s fault. Amazon’s culture was infamously brutal under Jeff Bezos. But something about her personality felt perfect.
“I have not had a director as smart or cutthroat as Ella,” recalled another employee, who praised her attention to detail. “I have never learned more… I think sometimes she just missed a human piece of how to treat people.”
Irwin has now imported that philosophy to Twitter, where Elon Musk is using even harder measures to turn the platform around, after working for a while at the tech company Twilio. (Sleeping at the office is tacitly encouraged. Also, consider bringing your own toilet paper.)
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Irwin’s duties as head of trust and safety include reducing harmful content like hate speech, offering opinions on account suspensions and bans, and occasionally acting as the platform’s de facto spokesperson. She oversees the product, policy, and operations teams in charge of protecting consumers from fraud and abuse while also assisting in the handling of user complaints. Musk has drastically reduced Twitter’s staff, including content censors and human rights specialists, and removed its advisory trust and safety council, which makes the situation more difficult.
Irwin’s former colleagues gave her the reputation of being quite hierarchical and unlikely to oppose Musk. She and her supervisor have already started to diverge, albeit perhaps this is due to poor communication more than a difference in fundamental beliefs.
Two days before Christmas, Irwin provided Reuters with a statement confirming the disabling of Twitter’s #ThereIsHelp suicide prevention feature after the news organization’s report on its disappearance—which sources claimed was done at Musk’s request—was published. While Twitter was “fixing and revamping our prompts,” the service was “temporarily removed.” Musk, however, appeared to contradict his deputy the next day when he tweeted in response to Reuters: “False, it is still there,” as noted by Ars Technica. Another tweet was sent by him labelling the story as “fake news” and stating that “Twitter doesn’t prevent suicide.”
For her part, Irwin told The Daily Beast: “Elon did not actually contradict my specific comments, however he did comment on the overall narrative of a specific press story being false.”
“Elon did ask the team to remove and fix the many broken prompts that were impacting user experience and mirror Google’s approach in terms of the prompts that we display,” she added. “He did not catalog the prompts or point out specific ones, such as the suicide prompt to remove other than to show us a few examples of ones that were broken or outdated.”
Irwin appears to have accepted her new role thus far, which is the most public of her career. Since Musk eliminated the communication division through layoffs, Irwin frequently speaks for Twitter when he is quoted in the media.
The 47-year-old tech veteran has recently come to light as the employee who sent journalist Bari Weiss screenshots of internal corporate systems so she could write about the so-called “Twitter Files.” According to a Washington Post article, Irwin accompanied Weiss when she had access to Twitter’s Slack platform.
Irwin claimed she didn’t give reporters or anyone else access to the Twitter Files. Since we did not grant Bari access, my sole interaction with her was to get the accounts she was requesting information about and make sure she could view their status and enforcement history. Irwin concluded, “That’s it. Had no other knowledge of the Twitter Files, what would be posted, or the inferences being made from the accounts examined.
This bodes good for Twitter’s future, the user tweeted when @monitoringbias was restored. He complimented Irwin’s staff for stepping in to help.
In another instance, Irwin again stepped in when a user claimed they believed users were being suspended as a result of “woke mobs” reporting competing accounts. She stated on December 28 that “Our team has been meticulously scrutinising thousands of suspended accounts over the past month, including accounts identified in this thread.” “Users who did not commit fraud, threats of harm or other acts of violence, or other illegal activities are being reinstated. will require 30 days to complete the review.
Irwin has been tagged by dozens of users who are looking for similar help. “Good news for those of us awaiting reinstatement of our primary accounts banned for Covid WrongSpeak,” another user tweeted. “According to Ella, that should be happening within 30 days! Thank you @ellagirwin & @elonmusk for making twitter great again!”
In an email to The Daily Beast, Irwin said, “I interface with many accounts every single day (basically just scanning for user concerns) not just people suspended for misinformation or posting offensive tweets in the past. That is part of our work on implementing the general amnesty reinstatements.”
Irwin is “one of the most principled and mature executives in this field,” Behnam Rezaei, one of the final pre-Musk executives at Twitter who left his position as head of product and engineering last week, told The Daily Beast.
“She is very even keeled,” Rezaei said. “Also very pragmatic. I also think she is a great people leader who has helped Twitter trust and safety org navigate these turbulent times. She is also very good at capturing different opinions and perspectives of an issue. Also she is very comfortable expressing her unbiased opinion to Elon and others, something that is rare.”
After Musk assumed leadership in late October, studies claim that hate speech increased dramatically. Within weeks of his acquisition, the frequency of the use of the N-word increased from an average of 1,282 to 3,876 per day, and the frequency of homophobic slurs increased from 2,506 to 3,964. (Musk tweeted that the study’s conclusions were “utterly false” and claimed that “Hate speech impressions (# of times tweet was viewed) continue to decline despite significant user growth,” when The New York Times published an article on the study.
Irwin won’t be shaken by the turmoil at the platform, according to some people who know her. Said one of her former employees: “I think she thrives in environments that are on fire.”