A lot can happen in a year. But when it comes to serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, a lot can happen in just a few hours. After Musk mounted his grand plan of acquiring the microblogging site Twitter for $44 billion, all hell broke loose on the platform… and outside it. From firing over thousands of employees to reinstatement of former US President Donald Trump’s account, who was banned from Twitter following the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots, and the endless number of fake accounts, it has been nothing short of chaos since Musk’s Twitter takeover.
From 2017, when a user asked Musk to buy Twitter, prompting a curious response of “How much is it?,” to the recent six month battle for the platform which involved a poison pill, lawsuits and finally the takeover, Musk and Twitter have treaded a long, arduous path.
Here’s a deep dive into one of the most defining moments of 2022 and its aftermath:
It can now be safely said that the number of workers quitting has been in direct proportion to Musk entering the Twitter headquarters. As the ‘Chief Twit,’ according to his then Twitter bio, made a splash with his arrival accompanied by a porcelain sink, speculations arose about his plans to cut staff by 75% after the takeover. According to a report, at least a 60% rise was reported in the number of employees that left Twitter in the third quarter, many of whom were hired by Meta and Google.
As soon as he took charge of Twitter on October 28, Musk fired CEO Parag Agarwal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and Chief Legal Counsel Vijaya Gadde, whom he accused of misleading him about the number of fake accounts on the platform. He also fired the entire Twitter board, making himself the sole director of the social media platform and announcing that the “bird is freed.”
Outrage over $8
On October 30, Musk revealed plans to redesign the company’s subscription service known as Twitter Blue and revamp the verification system by charging users for the blue tick. This invited indignant responses from furious Twitterati, including bestselling author Stephen King, who tweeted, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? F*** that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.” Replying to this, Musk confirmed his subscription plans, albeit at a reduced price of $8 per month.
$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 31, 2022
In order to achieve this goal within a week, employees were reportedly asked to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, without any discussion about overtime pay or job security.
On November 4, Musk kickstarted massive layoffs at Twitter, necessitated due to a “massive drop in revenue (over $4 million per day),” and added that he had “no choice” and that everyone affected was offered three months of severance pay. This included laying off the entire human rights team and a few hundred strong content moderation or ‘Safety and Trust team’ was also reduced to 15 people, as per a report, which have tripled the number of racist, antisemitic, and hate speech-filled tweets.
However, dozens of ‘mistakenly’ fired employees were asked to come back later after management realised they were important to build the new features envisioned by Musk.
The hashtag ‘One Team’ started trending as the platform brimmed with goodbye tweets from ex-employees who shared fond memories of their former workplace.
Bots vs Impersonators
With the launch of the paid verification system via Twitter Blue on November 9, the site officially launched into a rabbit hole of absolute anarchy. Ironic for someone who vowed to “defeat spam bots” and “authenticate all real humans!”
Earlier, these blue ticks were considered a mark of authenticity and granted to people at risk of impersonation, such as politicians, celebrities or journalists.
While a verified account pretending to be former US president George W Bush joked about his role in the Iraq War, tweeting, “I miss killing Iraqis,” a fake account of former UK PM Tony Blair retweeted it adding, “Same tbh.” Elon Musk parody accounts also came up, with one even tweeting memes in Hindi and lyrics to Bhojpuri song ‘Lollipop Lagelu’, among other things. ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Satan’ and ‘Super Mario’ too were officially validated on Musk’s Twitter.
In the cesspool of misinformation, brands like Nintendo, Apple, and even Tesla, too, faced the onslaught of parody accounts. Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co’s stock plummeted after a fake tweet, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now” went viral.
The Blue Check crisis has expedited the exit of advertisers concerned about Musk’s plans for content moderation, including Volkswagen, General Motors and United Airlines, from the platform. Debt investors and credit raters are also showing little confidence.
Twitter eventually added an ‘official’ label to some accounts to combat impersonation, only to be ditched within hours after Musk had a change of mind.
The mushrooming of fake accounts led to a very upset Musk announcing that the impersonators’ accounts will be permanently suspended without warning if they are not clearly labelled as parody.
The self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, who announced that “comedy is now legal on Twitter” shortly after his takeover, surely couldn’t take a joke or accept criticism as he shut down comedian Kathy Griffin’s account for impersonating him. Other celebrities too followed suit to highlight the dangers in his flawed plan.
The launch of the paid plan was reportedly postponed to after the US midterm elections due to its potential to spread misinformation and impersonation of politicians and high profile personalities, as it proved later.
Meanwhile, Musk unabashedly pushed his politics on Twitter on Election Day by asking his 115 million followers to vote Republican. When such an influential executive exerts his political sway ahead of election, it raises questions about how Twitter will counter misinformation about voting and election results.
A report published by researchers at the Fletcher School at Tufts University said that “more extremists have tested Twitter’s boundaries” leading to a “decay in the quality of conversation” on the platform after Musk took over.
Your ‘behaviour’ has violated company policy
It seems like the unofficial chief of sh**posting is unable to handle it when his employees do the same. Many workers who criticised Musk either on the company’s internal work channel – Slack – or on Twitter, were reportedly fired by email with no proper reason provided. As per reports, 4,000-5,000 contractual workers were further fired sans any official intimation, with some even getting to know about it through people’s tweets.
Sasha Solomon, a software engineer, tweeted that she was fired for quoting Musk’s comment and saying he doesn’t know “what the f*** [our infrastructure] does,” adding “kiss my a** elon.”
Musk himself wrote, “He’s fired,” in a now-deleted tweet, when Android developer Eric Frohnhoefer, called Musk “wrong” for the cause of the alleged slow loading times. Eric was subsequently fired without any formal communications. London engineer Nick Robinson was also laid off after tweeting Musk was “embarrassing” himself for turning off Twitter microservices.
Many who were accused of “violating company policy” were not sure of what exactly led to their layoff, but expressed ‘salute emoji’ solidarity on Twitter with others facing the same situation.
Whew, a tumultuous two-week reign of Musk saw Twitter staff being halved and fake accounts flourishing. And yes, in case you were wondering, Twitter had a ‘near-death’ experience in the next two weeks. Read on:
In his first address to Twitter employees since the takeover, he reportedly said that bankruptcy was a possibility if the company didn’t start generating more cash and issued orders for 80-hour weeks, to mail weekly work updates to him, less perks like free food and end of remote work.
Musk’s order for a complete freeze on Twitter’s code base and cutting down the engineering team by 80% sparked concerns about the ability to keep the site up and running and warnings of an imminent outage, urging users to download their data from the platform.
Before you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Musk issued a ‘hardcore’ ultimatum to the remaining employees to commit to his ‘maniacal’ work culture, which includes extra hours, or exit with three months severance pay. As the deadline to respond to the ultimatum approached on November 17, less than half of the company’s remaining staff signed up for Twitter 2.0, raising questions about how the company will continue regular operations and forcing top management to desperately convince some to stay on.
Twitter offices were abruptly shut till Nov 21 to “prevent sabotage” by exiting workers. The employee exodus led to the trending of hashtags #RipTwitter and #GoodbyeTwitter as Twitter’s end seemed to be nearing. He reportedly also asked those “who actually write software” to fly to the San Francisco headquarters to help him “understand Twitter tech stack” and possibly help ease the present crisis at hand. Musk also added fuel to fire by sharing an emoji of a pirate flag featuring a skull and a meme showing Twitter being buried.
A day after the ultimatum deadline, a picture posted by Lauren Chen on Twitter went viral for the stark differences in Twitter ‘before and after Musk’. Users highlighted the missing women and lack of racial diversity in the recent picture.
Amid the mass resignations, Musk announced a new ‘freedom of speech, not freedom of reach’ policy in which negative or hate tweets will be “deboosted and demonetized.”
Return of Trump, Ye
Just when the question of Musk’s Twitter being a concern for national security reached the White House, with US President Joe Biden saying that “Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” he started a Twitter poll to decide on bringing back Trump. As a narrow majority chose the return of Trump, the ban was lifted, despite the fact that the restriction was in place owing to his repeated lies on the site. However, Trump said that he’ll be continuing in his own platform, Truth Social.
Musk also welcomed back rapper Ye, whose account was suspended for an antisemitic tweet. Other controversial unbanned accounts include the conservative Christian website The Babylon Bee, Jordan Peterson, which earlier came under fire for anti-LGBTQ tweets, and Andrew Tate, who tweeted that sexual assault survivors “bear some responsibility.”
Musk bought Twitter to allow people to say “whatever they want” provided it’s not illegal. However, he violated his own ‘free speech’ ideology by not removing the ban on US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who falsely claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. Musk announced that he would show “no mercy” to those who profit off deaths of children, citing loss of his firstborn. This selective acceptance of ‘free speech’ on Twitter at his discretion has invited backlash from many.
What Lies Ahead
Although Twitter Blue was set to be relaunched on Nov 29, Musk has again backtracked on his ambitious monetizing plan and said it’ll be paused until there is “high confidence of stopping impersonation.” He also hinted at the use of different colour checks for organizations and individuals.
After bringing down the headcount from 7000 to roughly 2700, Musk has now announced rehiring for engineering and sales roles. In an attempt to “decentralize”, he announced plans to set up engineering teams in Japan, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Interestingly, Musk had earlier fired the entire communications, marketing, partner relations teams and almost 70 per cent of engineering staff working out of India. It is not yet clear on the specific kind of roles the company would be hiring for.
On Thursday, Musk dropped his “awesome” new merchandise of ‘Stay at Work’ shirts after tweeting a video of a closet filled with ‘#StayWoke’ t-shirts in the Twitter office, for which he was mocked. One might interpret it as a counter to the ‘#StayWoke’ T-shirts, but it also seems to indicate the shift to the current ‘hardcore’ company culture. The “#StayWoke” shirts are associated with support for Black employees at Twitter and were popularised by co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has been spotted wearing it at conferences.
The takeover of one of the most influential social media platforms by the world’s richest man has been in turmoil for over three weeks now, leaving many wondering whether Musk has bitten off more than he could chew. The Twitter saga has shrunk Musk’s net worth by $101 billion this year, although he is still on top of the billionaire’s index. For now, Twitter’s future as “the public town square offering valuable service to the world’ seemingly hangs in the balance… or can the Silicon Valley visionary turn it around?
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