In a modern twist on throwing tomatoes at a performer onstage, Vice employees showed up to a town hall and voiced their disapproval of executives with a steady stream of dislike emojis. The digital media workers were, of course, responding to a mass layoff, if not the demise of their trailblazing news site altogether.

A week ago, the media company announced it was set to lay off hundreds of employees as it was shutting down the website and also making moves to sell Refinery 29. Coming a year after filing for bankruptcy, Vice CEO Bruce Dixon reportedly said in a memo that this was “the best past forward” as “we position the company for long-term creative and financial success.” 

In a video of said town hall, COO Cory Haik spoke of a “very, very, very difficult time in the macro landscape,” while a river of dislike emojis flowed alongside her talking head. Dixon suddenly ended the meeting while saying that “it’s impossible to ignore the emojis, from my side.” As he added that Vice would “organize this in a way where we can actually give the information to people who want to receive it in the way it’s meant,” Dixon’s words were met with another emoji eruption.

After the pandemic first hit and employees began to work remotely with more frequency, virtual town halls and layoffs became more commonplace. Leaked videos of strained town halls post layoffs announcements have popped up in the last couple of years, revealing discontent everywhere from the Washington Post to Google

In between the town hall and the announcement of layoffs last week, Vice employees had simply been waiting in limbo to hear their fate. One such former worker, Evy Kwong, posted to TikTok about her agonizing two days wait to get her email only to find her name misspelled in said message. “Absolutely an apt way to just flame out of this company after the train wreck of how they did this whole thing,” she said. Speaking of the town hall in a separate video, Kwong adds that the disliking made for “basically a constant ‘boo’ track got them in such a fit.” 

Vice’s downfall comes in the shadow of a larger wave crashing down on digital media. As  issues of poor management, waning investment from advertisers, and the prioritization of SEO profitability over the proliferation of actual news all collided, outlets paid the price in what made for a volatile year and an especially cold winter. Alongside Vice, Buzzfeed News shut down, the Messenger collapsed, and Business Insider announced layoffs. This past January alone more than 800 media jobs were cut, according to  Challenger, Gray & Christmas data sent to Fast Company

And Kwong is just one of many young adults turning the camera back on companies during layoff time. As CEOs remotely perform cuts, employees are posting about the carnage and pushing past taboo to expose the emotional cost of these moves. “It must be very easy for you to just have these little 10-minute, 15-minute meetings, tell someone that they’re fired, completely wreck their whole life and that’s it, with no explanation,” Brittany Pietsch said in a viral video after she posted the conversation where she was laid off. “That’s extremely traumatizing for people.”

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