The two weeks since Elon Musk’s $44 billion Twitter takeover have been eventful, to say the least.
The day before closing the deal, Musk entered Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters with a smile on his face before holding a friendly meeting with his new staff. At the same time, he also pledged in an open letter to advertisers that he would turn the platform into a “common digital town square” where users could amicably share ideas across borders and ideologies.
But behind the scenes, Musk was already planning drastic and disruptive changes. On Oct. 28, one day after the Twitter acquisition, Musk gathered several human resource executives at the company’s headquarters, telling them to begin drawing up lists of disposable staff in advance of mass layoffs, the New York Times reported on Friday in an exhaustive account of Musk’s first few weeks in charge.
Musk reportedly wanted layoffs to start immediately, before retention bonuses for employees would kick in on Nov. 1. The potential of hefty legal fines eventually persuaded Musk to delay the layoffs until Nov. 4, when he announced job cuts affecting 50% of Twitter’s staff—around 3,700 employees.
“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce,” read an email to staff announcing the layoffs—simply signed “Twitter.”
But the far-reaching layoffs—which have entirely uprooted some teams and prompted fears about the platform’s ability to moderate content and police hate speech and misinformation—are only part of the story of Musk’s first weeks in charge. Employee dissatisfaction, advertiser departures, and warnings from Musk himself about the company’s dire financial status have all been hallmarks of the new Twitter CEO’s tumultuous term.
Twitter’s new normal
The transition to Musk’s leadership has been a difficult adjustment for many of Twitter’s remaining staff. One manager who was given a list of hundreds of people to fire reportedly “vomited into a trash can near his feet,” according to the New York Times.
The immediate departures of four top Twitter executives—including CEO Parag Agrawal— also dealt a blow to company morale, creating a dour mood at a company Halloween party where some employees cried and hugged each other, the Times reported.
In his first weeks as boss, Musk has also imposed his trademark demanding leadership style, honed at his other companies, Tesla and SpaceX. Having previously demanded Tesla workers return to the office, Musk mandated Twitter employees to do the same this week—ending the company’s long-standing work from home policy.
In an email on Wednesday, Musk told employees that “remote work is no longer allowed,” warning of “difficult times ahead” and telling staff that the culture moving forward would be “arduous and will require intense work to succeed.” Multiple Twitter employees have already been photographed sleeping on the office floor overnight because of long work hours.
Musk also requested an internal audit to weed out any “ghost employees” at Twitter, the Times reported. The point was to verify that everyone on the payroll was in fact a “real human.”
In a sign of further chaos, the company reportedly contacted dozens of former employees it had just laid off and offered them their jobs back. Management had belatedly realized they were essential to the running of the company, tech newsletter Platformer reported last weekend.
But Musk’s most pressing concern might be the company’s finances, which he has said aren’t looking good. On Thursday, Musk warned employees that the company’s bankruptcy was entirely possible. He also told staff that perks such as free lunches were being discontinued in a bid to cut costs. Musk had already instructed his team to identify how the company could save $1 billion on infrastructure costs, Reuters reported last week.
In his email sent to staff on Wednesday, Musk reiterated the importance of diversifying Twitter’s revenue streams from advertising, with subscriptions being his preferred avenue.
“Without significant subscription revenue, there is a good chance Twitter will not survive the upcoming economic downturn,” Musk wrote. “We need roughly half of our revenue to be subscription.”
Twitter has already launched an $8 monthly subscription for users that comes with a number of perks. But the feature has since sparked chaos on the site because it gives subscribers a blue check mark on their profiles that had previously been reserved for verified users to signal that they weren’t impostors. As a result, a number of accounts have opened that impersonate famous figures including President Joe Biden and large companies. This week, for example, a Twitter account pretending to speak for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly falsely announced that its trademark insulin product was now available for free, in a post that attracted 11,000 likes before the account was suspended.
Twitter currently relies on ads for around 90% of its revenue, although companies have grown cautious about advertising on the platform since Musk’s takeover, with many of them temporarily pausing their ads on Twitter in recent weeks amid a concerning rise in hate speech and misinformation on the site.
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