Meta (formerly Facebook Inc.), the parent of globally influential social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp among other ventures, is reportedly on the verge of laying off many thousands of workers in a retrenchment exercise that is billed to be the largest to date at a major tech firm.
The large-scale layoffs, according to The Wall Street Journal, are expected to be announced this week, possibly as from Wednesday, following “several months of more targeted staffing reductions in which employees were managed out or saw their roles eliminated.”
The imminent headcount reduction is expected to be a sweeping, company-wide affair aimed at cutting costs across non-priority growth areas, and this puts Meta’s offices in Africa, as well as other non-Western markets, under threat of deep gutting or outright suspension.
Meta opened its first Africa office in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015, and followed it up with the launching of a bigger base in Lagos, Nigeria, last year. The latter was the first office on the continent with a team of engineers, as well as personnel across sales, policy, and communications. Previously, Meta’s famous CEO Mark Zuckerberg had paid a strategic visit to Nigeria in 2016 in what was his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, signalling the interest of the tech giant in frontier markets.
“All across Africa we’re seeing immense talent in the tech ecosystem, and I’m proud that with the upcoming opening of our new office, we’ll be building products for the future of Africa, and the rest of the world, with Africans at the helm,” Ime Archibong, then-Head of New Product Experimentation, had said at the time of announcing the move in September 2020.
Nunu Ntshingila, Regional Director for Facebook Africa at the time, also expressed goodwill. “Five years on from opening our first office on the continent in Johannesburg, South Africa, we’re continuing to invest in and support local talent, as well as the various communities that use our platforms. The office in Lagos will also be key in helping to expand how we service our clients across the continent,” she had emphasised.
But, having grown the African team and extended its commitment to boosting digital accessibility on the continent with investments in an audacious subsea cable project (in addition to prior achievements in aiding the establishment of a tech hub space and a centre for small businesses in Lagos), Meta now looks to be paring back on certain engagements to offset dwindling fortunes in the tech markets and heightened investments in its well-documented metaverse pursuit.
The impending shake-up is unlikely to spare the outpost in Africa where Meta Platforms count more than 200 million users but makes only a small portion of revenue. Last week, a development which saw fellow social platform, Twitter, cut its workforce by 50 percent, under new leadership led by the divisive Elon Musk, put members of the fledgling African operation either out of work or in limbo.
Meta, which counts around 87,000 employees as of September – having added more than 27,000 employees in 2020 and 2021 combined, and a further 15,344 in the first nine months of this year – has been under pressure lately from investors to cut spending and Meta’s CEO, Zuckerberg, reportedly told employees that “there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here” back in June.
It was also reported in September that Meta was planning to cut expenses by at least 10 percent in the coming months, partly through staff reductions. While the imminent layoffs at Meta could probably be smaller on a percentage basis than the cuts at Twitter this past week, the number of Meta employees expected to be let go could be the highest ever on record in Silicon Valley.
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