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Monday, September 26, 2022

Twitter Employees Search for Answers as Musk Takeover Becomes Reality

In January 2020, hundreds of Twitter workers met in Houston for a business event named #OneTeam. During the occasion, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive at the time, said he had brought a surprise visitor. Then, with a wave and a grin, Elon Musk emerged on big screens above the stage. The audience applauded, clapped and pumped fists. “We adore you,” one employee screamed.

Inside Twitter today, unexpected news about Mr. Musk land differently. Employees said they had mostly ceased celebrating the wealthiest man in the world since he disclosed his ambition this month to purchase Twitter, remove its content moderation procedures and turn the publicly listed firm into a private one. On Monday, Twitter said it had accepted Mr. Musk’s bid to purchase the firm for approximately $44 billion.

As the takeover struggle played out over the previous two weeks, Twitter workers said they were angry that they had heard nothing from management about what it meant for them, even as Twitter moved closer on a deal with Mr. Musk on Monday morning. They approached their top executive, Parag Agrawal. They questioned Mr. Musk personally in queries made on Twitter. Some even turned to Charles Schwab, the financial institution that controls their stock options, seeking clarification regarding the effect a sale of the business would have on them.

But they were not receiving very many answers before Mr. Musk’s bid succeeded, said 11 Twitter workers who requested to not be identified because they were not allowed to talk publicly, even as it became evident that they may soon find themselves reporting to Mr. Musk.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Agrawal and Twitter’s chairman, Bret Taylor, finally met with staff to discuss the acquisition. Compensation would stay basically the same under Mr. Musk, Mr. Agrawal said, but he could not offer the same promises regarding Twitter’s rules and culture.

Mr. Musk has made parts of his ambitions obvious in regulatory filings, tweets and public appearances: The firm must eliminate practically all of its moderation measures, which block material like violent threats, harassment and spam. It must give greater information about the algorithm it employs to elevate tweets in users’ newsfeeds. And it must become a private corporation.

But some employees have claimed in internal letters reviewed by The Times that their co-workers have drifted too far to the left side of the political spectrum, making staff who support Mr. Musk’s goals too uncomfortable to speak out. In a worker-run poll of almost 200 Twitter workers on Blind, an anonymous workplace assessment app, 44 percent indicated they were neutral on Mr. Musk. Twenty-seven percent said they adored Mr. Musk, while 27 percent said they loathed him.

But Mr. Musk’s campaign has also started to undermine Twitter’s attempts to attract new staff, according to internal memos documenting the company’s recruiting efforts that were examined by The Times. Prospective candidates have voiced doubt about Mr. Musk’s aspirations to overhaul Twitter and upend its content filtering, the papers said.

Twitter’s hiring issue may inflate further if existing workers resign, as some have predicted they would do if Mr. Musk took leadership. Other workers concerned about layoffs or the loss of work permits under Mr. Musk, and voiced queries about these problems with Mr. Agrawal.

Managers responsible for recruiting have been ordered to keep track of how many potential workers turn down job offers because of misgivings about Mr. Musk, according to internal correspondence acquired by The Times.

Employees have also wondered: Could he possibly transfer Twitter’s headquarters to Texas, like he did with Tesla? Could he eliminate the company’s flexibility regarding returning to the workplace, which has been a selling feature for staff and recruits? Mr. Musk, after all, struggled with regulators in California to keep his car manufacturing running early in the outbreak.

Mr. Agrawal sought to pacify his work force. In the question-and-answer session on Monday, he encouraged staff to “operate Twitter as we always have,” adding that “how we manage the business, the choices we make, and the good improvements we achieve — that will be on us, and within our control.”

The discomfort at the mention of Mr. Musk is a sharp contrast to the reception he experienced from staff two years ago. Although several workers at the event in 2020 said they were suspicious of Mr. Musk, many of them listened closely as he provided his suggestions for Twitter: The firm should boost up its moderation, he said, by doing more to separate out bots and fraudsters from the genuine users using the network.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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