As Twitter workers digested the most tumultuous week in the company’s 16-year history, the message from senior management was: wait and see.
Immediately after breaking the news that Elon Musk had coordinated his $44 billion takeover bid for the platform with Twitter’s board of directors, employees at a virtual emergency meeting were told there would be no layoffs „at this time“ and that until to close the deal would change little over the course of the year, subject to shareholder approval and further dramatic twists and turns.
But what then? Twitter’s workforce is divided and concerned. Some see the billionaire’s influence as a new era of getting things done, away from the demands of Wall Street. Others worry about what could be undone, especially when it comes to curbing hate speech or related content.
„It’s a time of real unease and uncertainty,“ wrote Edward Perez, a project manager on Twitter’s Societal Health team, on Twitter. „Most of us firmly believe that Twitter is much more than a tech platform; we have a great responsibility to society. I hope our new owner understands that.“
Few on Twitter thought it would come to this. According to insiders, some employees initially felt Musk was toying with them. After announcing the offer, engineers complained on the company’s Slack channels, pointing out that its political views clashed with theirs, according to one. „This man just has to leave us alone,“ said a senior executive ahead of the deal.
Serious thought now needs to be given to what Musk has in mind for the future of Twitter, based on little more than his brief remarks, an unfocused appearance onstage at the TED conference in Vancouver earlier this month, and a string of tweets – some seriously , others maybe not – in which he spoke about the platform and his vision.
„Can someone please tell me if I’m rich or fired,“ joked London-based Twitter contributor Ned Miles.
When the deal closes, the current board will no longer exist and it will be up to Musk to decide on the governance structure. Musk will also decide on the composition of the management team, including who will take over as chief executive, according to a person familiar with the situation, adding that there have been no discussions within Twitter on the matter.
Some felt that decoupling Twitter from the demands of Wall Street, which sees growth and ad revenue as a sign of Twitter’s eventual health as a company, a company struggling to unravel its most toxic elements while maintaining engagement and keeping ad revenue in shape on a quarterly basis could bring new flexibility.
„Twitter as a business has always been my only problem and my biggest regret,“ wrote Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. „It’s been dominated by Wall Street and the advertising model. Taking it back from Wall Street is the right first step.“
This view is echoed by Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s former vice president in Europe, who also pointed to the recent troubling moves by activist investors to sell Dorsey in February 2020, before being appeased with a series of changes.
„Twitter has received tremendous growth forecasts from activist investors that are not being met at the moment,“ Daisley told the Financial Times. „In such situations there is enormous pressure, so privatization is a relief.“
Musk has already outlined vague plans for the site. The self-proclaimed „free speech absolutist“ said he will focus on „opening the algorithms to increase trust,“ „defeating the spam bots,“ and „authenticating all people.“ Little in the statement was new or radical, said a former Twitter executive.
„A lot of what he talked about is something the company has already been working on, including opening up the algorithm,“ the former Twitter exec said. „I think it’s more complex than he probably knows or understands. Part of the risk is giving a roadmap to people who want to abuse the system.“
Some Twitter employees were upset that Musk oversimplified the challenges Twitter faces and how hard they will be to solve, citing Musk’s lofty but often unfulfilled promises.
„Remember when we were supposed to get a Stage 4 self-driving Tesla every year for the last 8 years?“ wrote an employee on the anonymous message board Blind, which tracks users‘ workplaces based on company email addresses is verified. „Expect a tweet from Elon in 5 years or so admitting that the social media that allows for healthy, open conversation is [a] much tougher problem than he thought. Jack [Dorsey] was also an advocate of freedom of speech.“
The withdrawal from public markets would mean a payout for employees holding shares in the company. But that short-term gain, several employees felt, would eliminate a key selling point for staying with or joining the company. „If compensation is negatively impacted, we will lose a lot of great talent and the incentive to work at Twitter will disappear,“ an employee wrote on Blind.
Others wondered if Twitter’s loose return policy – which promised employees they could work from home indefinitely – could be in jeopardy. Last week, Musk considered converting the downtown San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter because, as he wrote in a now-deleted tweet, „no one“ was coming to work anymore.
Amid Twitter unease, tech rivals have been circling, with employees from companies like social network Reddit and Microsoft signaling their intention to woo disenchanted Twitter employees.
„I’ve received about 20 recruitment emails in the past few days,“ Hana Thier, a senior software engineer at Twitter, wrote on Twitter Tuesday.