Tech Twitter billionaire Elon Musk has been the force behind SpaceX and Tesla, but his empire is quickly expanding.
Soon, employees at Twitter will have to reckon with the fact that Musk is the boss. Employees at Twitter reacted with shock and dismay Monday as a new reality set in: Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, defender of free speech, and vocal critic of Twitter, would be the company’s new owner.
Employees expressed concern about Musk’s $44 billion takeover on Twitter, in private messages, and in interviews with The Washington Post. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and board chair Bret Taylor held an internal town hall on Monday afternoon, attempting to reassure worried employees but providing few direct answers. According to the interviews and tweets, as well as audio from the town hall obtained by The Post, a central concern was that Musk would attempt to undermine safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years.
Some people tweeted teary emoji and memes of people having emotional breakdowns, while others told The Washington Post they were too shocked to speak. Leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising at Monday’s town hall.
“I completely understand that this is for some people’s entertainment,” one employee tweeted.
“However, please understand that this is not entertainment for me.”
“The news today is so crazy I forgot I have COVID,” said another.
Not everyone was gloomy about Musk’s arrival.
“Elon did not tie up 20% of his net worth to destroy Twitter,” a Twitter employee told The Washington Post, noting that the company lags behind its competitors on many fronts.
“I personally believe that a change like this is exactly what Twitter requires.”
The employee described Musk as “cautiously optimistic.”
At first, many observers and employees thought Musk’s acquisition bid was unlikely. Musk did not appear to have sufficient funds to make the offer on his own, and Twitter’s board appeared to try to sabotage the deal. However, in recent days, Musk stated that he had secured the financing through loans, and the company announced in a news release on Monday that the acquisition had been completed. The acquisition, which would be one of the largest activist takeovers of a publicly traded company, would take the company private in three to six months, executives said at the town hall.
Musk’s involvement in Twitter, which began this month when he announced that he had purchased a large stake in the company, has already sparked employee outrage. Employees expressed concern in dozens of internal messages obtained by The Washington Post that Musk could harm the company’s culture and make it more difficult for people to do their jobs. The criticism was echoed by observers and misinformation researchers.
The company, which is headquartered in liberal San Francisco and employs over 5,000 people, has spent years cultivating a progressive corporate culture that allows employees to say whatever they want and live wherever they want. On Jan. 6, 2021, Twitter was the first company to take action against former President Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters, and engineering teams have spent years developing tools to combat spam, disinformation, and hate speech as part of the healthy conversations initiative.
“I don’t know any non-engineer who works on health issues who sees how this helps,” a Twitter employee said in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the company’s health division, which enforces rules against harmful content like hate speech and misinformation.
“Most people find it depressing.”
Musk, on the other hand, has used his Twitter account, which has over 84 million followers, to champion free speech and call into question content moderation decisions such as Trump’s ban, as well as to mock gender pronouns. He has also been described as a harsh manager who will seek to fire people on the spot if they do not agree with his point of view, even disbanding his entire public relations team at one point.
Twitter executives and board chair Taylor acknowledged during the town hall that people’s emotions were running high. They insisted, however, that the deal was financially beneficial to Twitter and that Musk could unlock the company’s untapped potential, while providing few details on what that entailed.
Taylor stated that the merger was approved by the board unanimously, and Agrawal stated that there would be no immediate layoffs or changes to the business while the transaction was finalized. Employees’ shares would be paid out in cash if the company went private.
But Agrawal was far less certain about the future, particularly when it came to whether Musk would change how the company polices speech and enforces its rules online — and even whether the company would continue to run advertisements in the long term.
According to Agrawal, leadership will “continue to spend time with Elon to learn more, and as we learn more, we will share it with you. “He also stated that his team would seek to better understand Musk’s “aspirations and ambitions” in order for executives to determine how to “best collaborate” with the new owner. Employees appeared dissatisfied, according to chats during the town hall described by an employee to The Post. During the town hall, a group of employees created a document with “questions for Elon Musk,” while others asked if he would restore Trump’s Twitter account. Some people wondered if the leadership was concerned about an employee exodus.
According to Bloomberg News, the company also said it would prohibit employees from making any changes to Twitter’s service until Friday, a move that could prevent employees from retaliating by causing damage to Musk’s Twitter account.