Tears, blunders and chaos: inside Elon Musk’s Twitter | Twitter

In April 2022, Elon Musk acquired a 9.2% stake in Twitter, making him the corporate’s largest shareholder, and was provided a seat on the board. Luke Simon, a senior engineering director at Twitter, was ecstatic. “Elon Musk is a superb engineer and scientist, and he has a monitor file of getting a Midas contact in the case of rising the businesses he’s helped lead,” he wrote on the office messaging platform Slack.

Twitter had been outlined by the management of Jack Dorsey – a co-founder who was recognized for occurring long meditation retreats, fasting 22 hours a day, and strolling 5 miles to the workplace – who was seen by some as an absentee landlord, leaving Twitter’s technique and every day operations to a handful of trusted deputies. To Simon and these like him, it was onerous to see Twitter as something apart from wasted potential.

In its early days, when Twitter was at its most Twittery, circa 2012, executives known as the corporate “the free-speech wing of the free-speech get together”. That was the period when the platform was credited for amplifying the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab spring, when it appeared like giving everybody a microphone may really convey down dictatorships and proper the wrongs of neoliberal capitalism.

Frequently, the platform set the information agenda. What it lacked in earnings it greater than made up for in affect. No one understood weaponise that affect higher than Donald Trump, who in 2016 propelled himself into the White House partially by harnessing hate and vitriol by way of his @actualDonaldTrump feed. A brand new consensus that the location was a sewer made it value rather a lot much less cash.

Elon Musk enters Twitter HQ holding a sink
‘Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in!’ How Elon Musk introduced his takeover – on Twitter. Photograph: Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP/Getty Images

Musk had provided to purchase the corporate for the absurdly inflated worth of $44bn. The transfer thrilled workers like Simon who chafed at Twitter’s laidback ambiance and repute for creating new options at a glacial tempo.

Other workers famous the darker motifs of Musk’s profession – the disregard for labour relations, the numerous present lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and racial discrimination at his corporations – and discovered his curiosity in Twitter ominous. On Slack, a product supervisor responded to Simon’s enthusiasm for Musk with scepticism: “I take your level, however as a childhood Greek mythology nerd, I really feel it is very important level out that the story behind the thought of the Midas contact just isn’t a optimistic one. It’s a cautionary story about what’s misplaced if you solely deal with wealth.”

The remark would show to be prophetic. According to greater than two dozen present and former Twitter staffers, Musk has, since shopping for the corporate in October 2022, proven a exceptional lack of curiosity within the folks and processes that make his new toy tick. He has purged thousands of employees, applied ill-advised insurance policies, and angered even a few of his most loyal supporters.

If “free speech” was his mandate for Twitter the platform, it has been the alternative for Twitter the office. Dissenting opinion or criticism has led to swift dismissals. Musk changed Twitter’s outdated tradition with one in every of his personal, however it’s unclear, with so few staff and plummeting revenues, whether or not or not this new model will survive.

On 26 October 2022, an engineer – let’s name her Alicia – sat in a glass convention room in San Francisco attempting to clarify the main points of Twitter’s tech stack to Elon Musk. He was imagined to formally purchase the corporate in two days, and Alicia and a small group of trusted colleagues have been tasked with outlining how its core infrastructure labored. But Musk, who was sitting two seats away from Alicia together with his elbows propped on the desk, seemed sleepy. When he did discuss, it was to ask questions on value. How a lot does Twitter spend on knowledge centres? Why was every thing so costly?

Fine, she thought. If Musk desires to learn about cash, I’ll inform him. She launched right into a technical clarification of the corporate’s data-centre effectivity, curious to see if he would observe. Instead, he interrupted. “I used to be writing C applications within the 90s,” he mentioned dismissively. “I perceive how computer systems work.”

David Sacks, a enterprise capitalist and good friend of Musk’s who had suggested him on the acquisition, walked into the room.

“David, this assembly is just too technical for you,” Musk mentioned, waving his hand to dismiss Sacks. Wordlessly, Sacks turned and walked out, leaving the engineers within the room – who had acquired little engagement from Musk on something technical – slack-jawed. His imperiousness in the course of a session he seemed to be botching was one thing to behold. (Sacks disputes this account of the assembly.)

The subsequent day, Alicia and her colleagues gathered within the cafeteria of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters for a long-planned Halloween get together. The room was adorned with miniature pumpkins and faux spiderwebs. Employees tried to get within the vacation spirit, however rumours have been swirling that Musk planned to cut 75% of the corporate. People have been sobbing within the loos. One firm chief recalled the surreal second of crying concerning the finish of Twitter as they knew it, solely to search for and see an individual in a Jack Sparrow costume amble by.

The days surrounding the acquisition handed in a blur of ominous, unlikely scenes. Musk posing because the world’s richest prop comedian, asserting his takeover by lugging a kitchen sink into the workplace: “Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in!” (181.2k retweets, 43.6k quote tweets, 1.3m likes). A fleet of Teslas within the car parking zone. Musk’s intimidating safety element standing outdoors his glass convention room as if guarding the chief of a creating nation. Musk’s two-year-old son, X Æ A-Xii, toddling across the second ground, often crying.

Employees braced for layoffs, however no phrase got here from Musk. People hunted for data on their unofficial chats whereas glued, like everybody else, to Musk’s Twitter feed for information. “Hey all don’t neglect to finish your q3 targets!” one worker wrote darkly on Slack. “Writes, ‘keep employed,’” responded a colleague.

Musk introduced in a cadre of shut advisers, together with Sacks – to workers, this crew can be recognized by just one identify: the Goons.

On Musk’s first full day in cost, 28 October, the chief assistants despatched Twitter engineers a Slack message on the behest of the Goons: the boss needed to see their code. Employees have been instructed to “print out 50 pages of code you’ve finished within the final 30 days” and prepare to indicate it to Musk in individual. Panicked engineers began looking across the workplace for printers.

Within a few hours, the Goons’ assistants despatched out a brand new missive to the staff: “UPDATE: Stop printing,” it learn. “Please be prepared to indicate your latest code (inside final 30-60 [days] ideally) in your pc. If you have got already printed, please shred within the bins on SF-Tenth. Thank you!”

Workers at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco.
Workers at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

The botched code evaluation did little to discourage the Goons, who nonetheless wanted to determine which of Twitter’s 7,500 workers have been wanted to maintain the location operating – and who might be jettisoned. At 10 that very same night time, they instructed managers they need to “stack rank” their groups, a typical however chilly technique of analysis that forces managers to designate their lowest performers.

Amir Shevat, who managed Twitter’s developer platform and had led massive groups at Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, was perplexed. Every firm did stack rating otherwise. Should they type staff by seniority? Impact? Revenue generated? No one had a solution. “They mentioned, ‘We don’t know. Elon desires a stack rank,’” Shevat says.

The undertaking succeeded in producing massive lists of names, however as a result of completely different managers had ranked workers based on their very own strategies, the outcomes have been incoherent.

Meanwhile, managers have been fielding apprehensive questions from staff, however the one one which mattered – “Will I nonetheless have a job right here?” – nobody may reply. Even Shevat didn’t know if his place was protected.

The following week, on 3 November, workers acquired an unsigned electronic mail from “Twitter” relaying that the time for layoffs had began. By 9am the next day, everybody would obtain a word telling them whether or not they nonetheless had a job.

That night time, a whole bunch of workers gathered in a Slack channel known as #social-watercooler, which had change into the corporate’s de facto city sq. since Musk took over. They posted salute emoji and blue hearts – solidarity for many who have been being reduce and for many who deeply needed to be proven the door however have been someway requested to remain. One individual posted a meme of Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War, the supervillain who exterminates half the dwelling beings within the universe with a snap.

By morning, half the workforce had misplaced their jobs, properly over 3,000 folks. The layoffs wiped out Shevat and his entire team. Alicia saved her place, however was left with survivor’s guilt. She began quietly encouraging her staff to arrange an exit technique.

Moments of institutional chaos are all the time somebody’s alternative, and at Twitter, that individual was a product supervisor named Esther Crawford. Before the takeover, Crawford had been centered on merchandise that allow creators earn cash from their Twitter accounts. When Musk arrived, she started angling for an even bigger function and quickly was pitching him on numerous methods Twitter might be improved.

Esther Crawford in her office
Esther Crawford, Twitter’s director of product administration. Photograph: Robert Cowherd

It labored: Crawford was tasked with relaunching Twitter’s subscription product, Twitter Blue. Musk had made it clear he needed to eliminate Twitter’s outdated verification technique, which he known as a “lords and peasants system”. To be verified – an emblem that an account had been vetted as genuine – a consumer needed to be accepted by somebody at Twitter. Blue examine marks largely went to manufacturers, celebrities, and journalists, reinforcing Musk’s perception that the platform was tilted in favour of media elites.

To right this imbalance, Musk needed to implement a crude pay-to-play scheme. After initially proposing to cost $20 a month for verification, he was talked all the way down to $8 after Stephen King tweeted at his 7 million followers: “$20 a month to maintain my blue examine? Fuck that, they need to pay me. If that will get instituted, I’m gone like Enron.”

Twitter’s belief and security staff compiled a seven-page doc outlining the risks related to paid verification. What would cease folks from impersonating politicians or manufacturers? They ranked the danger a “P0”, the best doable. But Musk and his staff refused to take any suggestions that might delay the launch. In early November, Crawford posted an image of herself in an eye fixed masks and sleeping bag on the workplace: “When your staff is pushing around the clock to make deadlines typically you #SleepWhereYouWork,” she mentioned.

Twitter Blue’s paid verification system was unveiled on 5 November. Almost instantly, fake verified accounts flooded the platform. An picture of Mario giving the center finger from what seemed just like the official Nintendo account stayed up for greater than a day. An account masquerading because the drug producer Eli Lilly tweeted that insulin would now be free; firm executives begged Twitter to take down the tweet. The advertising and marketing staff tried to do harm management. “You construct belief by being clear, predictable, and considerate,” one former worker says. “We have been none of these with this launch.”

Days after the subscription service debuted, Twitter canned it. Yoel Roth, the pinnacle of the staff whose warnings had been ignored, resigned.

Musk’s blundering left a deep scar. Twitter Blue was meant to start shifting Twitter’s income away from advertisements towards subscriptions. But whereas chasing a comparatively paltry new money stream, Musk torched the corporate’s advert enterprise – the supply of the overwhelming majority of its billions in income. The Blue catastrophe accelerated a rush of advertisers abandoning the platform, together with prescription drugs large Eli Lilly, and by December, what was left of Twitter’s gross sales staff started providing a whole bunch of 1000’s of {dollars} in free advert spend to lure again entrepreneurs.

In a collection of tweets, Musk blamed the corporate’s “huge drop in income” on “activist teams pressuring advertisers”. To Musk, it was anybody’s fault however his personal.

On 10 November, with simply 20 minutes’ discover, Musk gathered his remaining workers to deal with them straight for the primary time. He spoke frankly concerning the state of the enterprise and recommended much more layoffs have been to come back. He additionally revoked a coverage that had promised the whole employees the liberty to work remotely, eternally, in the event that they wished. “Basically, in case you can present up in an workplace and you don’t present up on the workplace, resignation accepted. End of story,” he mentioned.

Slack and Signal erupted. A lawyer identified that this might be a elementary change to their employment contracts, and workers didn’t have “an obligation to return to workplace”.

Alicia determined she had had sufficient. She loved working from the workplace however felt that forcing workers to take action, and on such quick discover, was immoral. She instructed colleagues to not resign. “Let him hearth you,” she mentioned. Why give Musk what he needed? Five days later, she was fired.

On 16 November, Musk emailed his remaining 2,900 workers an ultimatum. He was constructing Twitter 2.0, he mentioned, and staff would have to be “extraordinarily hardcore”, logging “lengthy hours at excessive depth”. The outdated method of doing enterprise was out. Now, “solely distinctive efficiency will represent a passing grade”. He requested workers to signal a pledge by way of Google Forms committing to the brand new commonplace by the tip of the subsequent workday.

A fake Nintendo Twitter account showing Mario flipping the bird
An instance of the faux verified accounts that flooded the platform following the launch of the paid verification system Twitter Blue. Photograph: @nIntendoofus / twitter

But who needed that? Employees have been nonetheless ready to be given a coherent imaginative and prescient for what Twitter 2.0 might be. Employees knew what Musk didn’t need – content material moderation, free gourmand lunches, folks working from dwelling – however had few clues as to what he did need. Besides, was being fired for not checking a field on a Google Form even authorized?

By December, greater than half the employees was gone. Remaining workers have been warned to not take lengthy Christmas holidays. Just when morale appeared to be bottoming out, Musk started doxing [publishing private information online] their colleagues.

Only a small internal circle knew Musk had invited the journalist Matt Taibbi to comb by way of inside paperwork and publish what he known as “the Twitter Files”. The intention appeared to be to provide credence to the notion that Twitter is in mattress with the deep state, beholden to the clandestine conspiracies of Democrats. “Twitter is each a social media firm and against the law scene,” Musk tweeted.

In an impossible-to-follow tweet thread that unfolded over a number of hours, Taibbi revealed the names and emails of rank and file ex-employees concerned in communications with authorities officers, insinuating that Twitter had suppressed the New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop computer. After it was identified that Taibbi had revealed the non-public electronic mail of Jack Dorsey, that tweet was deleted, however not the tweets naming low-level workers or the non-public electronic mail of a sitting congressman.

Employees rushed to warn a Twitter operations analyst whom Taibbi had doxed to privatise her social media accounts, understanding she was about to face a deluge of abuse.

While his journalists have been placing former workers in danger, Musk bent the corporate’s free speech insurance policies to guard himself. After one in every of his kids was allegedly stalked by a fan in South Pasadena, Musk blamed a Twitter account that tracked public knowledge concerning the whereabouts of his non-public jet – his “assassination coordinates”, Musk mentioned. He then suspended @ElonJet account, the account of its proprietor, and dozens of others that tracked celebrities’ planes. Several journalists from CNN, the New York Times and elsewhere have been suspended for tweeting the information.

One of Musk’s different Twitter Files journalists, Bari Weiss, denounced the crackdown: “The outdated regime at Twitter ruled by its personal whims and biases and it certain seems like the brand new regime has the identical downside. I oppose it in each instances.” Musk responded by unfollowing her.

Twitter continues to haemorrhage cash, a lot in order that Musk has stopped paying its payments. The landlords of Twitter places of work in San Francisco and London are suing over unpaid hire. And this month Twitter has been auctioning office furniture.

Donald Trump
Trump propelled himself into the White House partially by harnessing hate and vitriol by way of his
@actualDonaldTrump feed.
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

On Christmas Eve, Twitter abruptly shut down an information centre in Sacramento, California; it additionally introduced it might considerably downsize an information centre in Atlanta, Georgia. Engineers struggled to maintain the service operating. Outages would occur sporadically, the worst one in January, when the location was down for greater than 12 hours for customers in Australia and New Zealand. But it was nothing close to the disaster Musk’s critics had predicted. Twitter Blue was relaunched and largely, the platform saved buzzing alongside.

Late in December, Twitter workers observed a outstanding face was gone from Slack: Luke Simon had left the corporate. No one knew why. Some joked darkly that kissing Musk’s ring wasn’t sufficient to maintain anybody protected any extra. Simon’s Twitter account now not exists.

The repercussions for Musk’s dealing with of Twitter are actually coming. According to his public-merger settlement and inside Twitter paperwork, Musk agreed to at the least match the corporate’s current severance bundle, which provided two months’ pay in addition to different helpful advantages. Instead, he laid off workers with the minimal discover required by federal and state regulation and refused to pay out sure awards. Now greater than 500 workers, with Shevat among the many highest-ranking, are pursuing authorized motion towards Musk for what they’re owed, along with his alleged discrimination towards minority teams in his dealing with of the layoffs.

“I feel management doesn’t finish after you get fired,” says Shevat, including that he was already paid out for the acquisition of his startup and isn’t doing this for the cash.

Musk himself is beginning to seem defeated. Tesla shares began 2022 buying and selling at almost $400. By September, Tesla’s inventory worth had dropped by 25%. It plummeted once more after Musk purchased Twitter and ended the yr at $123. Investors are begging Musk to step away; Tesla workers are too. As one individual on Musk’s transition staff put it, “What the fuck does this must do with vehicles?”

Musk claims he all the time meant to be Twitter’s CEO solely briefly. With the harm he has finished in three months – to the corporate and to his personal wealth – these watching the nosedive, whether or not with horror or schadenfreude, can’t assist however marvel how for much longer he can wait. His failures at Twitter have already broken his repute as a genius. How sensible may he actually be, the man who bought an organization for excess of it was value, then drove what remained of it into the bottom?

As the yr got here to a detailed, Musk’s public statements about Twitter veered from satisfaction within the website’s utilization metrics (all-time highs, he repeatedly assured followers) to what may need been extra sober self-assessments of his predicament. “Don’t be the clown on the clown automobile!” he tweeted on 27 December. “Too late haha.”

If he appeared sure of something, it was the steadily enhancing technical structure of Twitter itself. The employees is likely to be vastly diminished, however what it lacked in measurement it greater than made up for in rising technical competence. Bit by bit, Musk mentioned, Twitter’s notoriously fragile infrastructure was enhancing.

In some methods, Musk was vindicated. Twitter was much less steady now, however the platform survived and largely functioned even with nearly all of workers gone. He had promised to rightsize a bloated firm, and now it operated on minimal headcount.

But Musk seems unaware of what he’s really damaged: the corporate tradition that constructed Twitter into one of many world’s most influential social networks, the insurance policies that tried to maintain that platform protected, and the belief of customers who populate it each day with their conversations, breaking information, and bizarre jokes – Twitter’s true worth and contributions to the world.

“Fractal of Rube Goldberg machines… is what it seems like understanding how Twitter works,” Musk wrote in a brief thread on Christmas Eve. “And but work it does… Even after I disconnected one of many extra delicate server racks.”

Four days later, Twitter crashed. More than 10,000 customers, a lot of them worldwide, submitted studies of issues accessing the location. Some acquired an error message studying: “Something went unsuitable, however don’t fret – it’s not your fault.”

“Can anybody see this or is Twitter damaged,” one consumer tweeted into the obvious void.

But in that second, Musk discovered that no matter is likely to be occurring on this planet at massive – to his website, his different corporations, his repute and legacy – that tweet, at the least, appeared on his display screen as meant.

“Works for me,” he replied.

This is an edited extract of an article that first appeared in New York magazine and The Verge.