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Trending on TikTok: A catchy Korean jingle, “life-changing” shapewear – and tech layoffs

Clumsily or coldly firing staff? Be prepared for prime time on social media...

Big Tech and Big Banks have started the new year with a fresh round of mass layoffs (or started actioning last year’s), and newly fired employees are turning creators to get clicks out of it, with a steady stream of #masslayoffs and #gotfired videos flooding TikTok and Instagram. 

These aren’t just public displays of emotion made for digital catharsis, there seems to be a market for watching people get fired. Instagram user Chole Shih’s reel about being let go from Discord received over 82,350 likes, while TikTok user Jewish Millenial’s video ‘Join me as I get laid off’, received over  3.6 million views.  The hashtag “techlayoffs” on TikTok itself has over 187.6 million views. HR be warned: You may be about to go viral.

The majority of the anger in these videos isn’t directed at often expected dismissals; it’s to do with the approach. Ex-employees in the videos have expressed frustration over being let go over mass Zoom calls or being told they’d receive an email at an ominous hour - letting them know if they’d been cut, in a grim and inhuman brand of corporate hunger games. 

Some employers clearly feel the attention is unfair: The Stack last week flagged the case of Cloudflare employees offended at being let go over what the company maintained was inadequate performance

The company has maintained that it did not conduct “layoffs” at all and only terminated contracts of underperforming employees – Cloudflare’s CEO weighed in to comment that “any  healthy org needs to get the people who aren’t performing off. That wasn’t the mistake here. 

“The mistake was not being more kind and humane as we did.”

Most of the fresh TikTok and Instagram carousel doesn’t feature Cloudflare -- once again, it is the big names - Alphabet, Amazon and X- that are being raked through the coals over another batch of mass layoffs.

Hundreds of jobs have been cut at Amazon’s film and television division, while Google has let go of laid off “hundreds” of employees across several divisions, including its engineering and hardware teams, as well as employees developing its voice-operated virtual assistant, Google Assistant.  Amazon owned streaming service Twitch has announced over a blog post that it will be reducing its headcount by 500. 

Duolingo, the language teaching application with the intimidating bird mascot has let go of 10% of its contactors, though it seems that no staff members have been impacted by job cuts so far.  Though exact numbers remain unclear, X (formerly known as Twitter) has reportedly cut staff from its global trust and safety team.

Discord, the ex-employer responsible for Shih’s new subscriber count, has announced that it is letting go of 17% of its staff. a tech layoff tracker reports that a total of 48 companies have made cuts since the start of the year, with over 7528 employees impacted.

Viral layoff videos are not, per se, new. A similar uptick in getting fired content took place in January 2023, and then again mid last year, with tech budgets unable to keep up with overhiring.  A 2023 Wall Street Journal article makes the argument that ‘it’s not personal’, when it comes to being fired over email – it’s efficient, and limits confusion

But as the millions of likes and views show, as well as human sympathy for those at risk of losing their houses and healthcare, for those remaining on the corporate side there is reputational risk here – and companies should be aware that as they drop the axe, there are millions of people watching, judging their technique for doing so, and hoping that they chop their own fingers off.