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

by Lindsey Francy Jan 29, 2023 News
Tears, blunders and chaos: inside Elon Musk’s Twitter

A seat on the board was offered to Musk after he became the company's largest shareholder. Simon is an engineering director at the micro-messaging service. He wrote on the workplace messaging platform, "Elon Musk is a brilliant engineer and scientist, and he has a track record of having a great deal of success when it comes to growing companies he's helped lead."

Jack Dorsey, who was known for going on long meditation retreats, fasting 22 hours a day, and walking five miles to the office, was seen by some as an Absent Landlord. It was hard for Simon and others to see that it was just a waste of time.

The company was called the free-speech wing of the free-speech party when it first started. It seemed like giving everyone a microphone might actually bring down dictatorships and right the wrongs of capitalism when the platform was used to amplify the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring movements.

The platform often sets the news agenda. It more than made up for the lack of profits by being influential. Donald Trump was able to weaponise that influence better than anyone else because he used his feed to spread hate and venom. It was assumed that the site was a sewer, which made it less valuable.

Elon Musk enters Twitter HQ holding a sink

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

Musk offered to buy the company for a ridiculously high price. The move thrilled employees like Simon who were unhappy with the pace of development.

Other employees noted the darker aspects of Musk's career, including the disregard for labour relations, the many lawsuits accusing sexual harassment and racial discrimination at his companies, and his interest in social media. As a childhood Greek mythology nerd, I feel it is important to point out that the idea of the Midas touch is not a positive one. There is a cautionary tale about what is lost when you only focus on wealth.

The comment would turn out to be correct. Since buying the company, Musk has shown a lack of interest in the people and processes that make his new toy work.

It has been the opposite of free speech for the workplace. Dissenting opinion has led to dismissal. It is unclear if the new version of Musk's culture will survive with so few workers and falling revenues.

An engineer sat in a glass conference room in San Francisco and tried to explain the tech stack to Musk. He was supposed to purchase the company in two days, but he and a small group of trusted colleagues had to explain how the core infrastructure worked. Musk, who was sitting two seats away from his wife, looked sleepy. He asked about cost when he talked. How much is spent on data centers by the social network? Everything was expensive.

She believed that it was fine. I will let Musk know about money. She wanted to know if he would follow the technical explanation of the company's data-centre efficiency. He stopped and interrupted. He said that he was writing C programs in the 90's. I'm aware of how computers work.

The friend of Musk who advised him on the acquisition walked into the room.

Musk waved his hand to dismiss Sacks. The engineers in the room were left slack-jawed when Sacks walked out. He seemed to be botching in the middle of the session. acks disagrees with this account of the meeting

A group of people gathered in the cafeteria of the San Francisco headquarters for a Halloween party. There were fake spiderwebs in the room. There were rumors that Musk was going to cut 75% of the company. There were people crying in the bathroom. A company leader recalled the moment of crying and seeing a person in a Jack Sparrow costume, only to look up and see someone else.

The days surrounding the acquisition were filled with strange scenes. Musk posed as the world's richest prop comic and announced his takeover by lugging a kitchen sink into the office. There is a group of cars in the parking lot. The leader of a developing nation is being guarded by Musk's security detail. Musk's son, X A-Xii, toddling around the second floor, sometimes crying.

There was no word from Musk. People were looking for information on their unofficial chats while they were looking at Musk's feed. One employee wrote darkly, "Hey all don't forget to finish your q3 goals!" A colleague asked if the writer would stay employed.

The Goons are a group of close advisers, including Sacks, that Musk brought in to work for him.

On Musk's first full day in charge, the executive assistants sent a message to the engineers that the boss wanted to look at their code. Employees were told to print out 50 pages of code and bring it to Musk. Engineers panicked and started looking for printers.

Within a few hours, the Goons assistants sent out a new message to the team. Please be prepared to show your code on your computer. You should shred in the bins if you have already printed. I would like to thank you.

Workers at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco.

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

The Goons still needed to figure out which of the 7,500 employees were needed to keep the site running and who could be let go. Managers were told at 10 that they should stack rank their teams, a common but cold method of evaluation.

A man who had led large teams at Amazon, Microsoft, and other companies was confused. The company's ranking was different. Is it a good idea to sort workers by their last name? Do you think impact is possible? How much revenue did you generate? There was no answer from anyone. They didn't know. Shevat says that the man wants a rank.

The project succeeded in generating large lists of names, but the results were incoherent because different managers had different methods for ranking employees.

Managers were fielding worried questions from workers, but no one could say whether or not they still had a job. Shevat wasn't sure if his position was safe.

On the 3rd of November, employees received an email stating that the time for layoffs had begun. Everyone would get a note the next day telling them if they still had a job.

Since Musk took over, the company has become a town square, with hundreds of employees gathering in a Slack channel called #social-watercooler. They showed their support for those who were being cut and for those who were asked to stay. A person posted a meme of the villain from the movie, who killed half the people in the universe with a snap.

Over 3000 people lost their jobs by the morning. Shevat and his entire team were laid off. She was left with survivor's guilt. She began to encourage her workers to plan an exit.

Esther Crawford was a product manager at the social networking site. Crawford was focused on products that allowed creators to make money from their accounts on social media. When Musk arrived, she began angling for a bigger role and soon was pitching him on various ways to improve the site.

Esther Crawford in her office

Esther Crawford, Twitter’s director of product management. Photograph: Robert Cowherd

Crawford was given the task of re-launching the product. The verification method that Musk called thelords and peasants system was what he wanted to do away with. To be verified, a user had to be approved by someone at the social networking site. The blue check marks went to brands, celebrities, and journalists, reinforcing Musk's belief that the platform was tilted in favor of media elites.

A crude pay-to-play scheme was proposed by Musk. Stephen King, who has 7 million followers, asked if he could pay $20 a month for verification after he proposed it. I think they should pay me. I'm going to be like Enron if that happens.

The document was created by the trust and safety team. Is there a way to stop people from pretending to be a brand or politician? The highest risk they could come up with was a P0. Musk and his team didn't want to delay the launch. In early November, Crawford posted a picture of herself in an eye mask and sleeping bag at the office.

On 5 November, the paid verification system was introduced. There were fake verified accounts flooding the platform. A picture of Mario making a gesture from the official Nintendo account stayed up for more than a day. The executives of Eli Lilly requested that the account be taken down because it was a fake. They tried to control the damage. One former employee says trust is built by being transparent, predictable and thoughtful. We were not among those who launched.

The service was canned days after it was launched. The head of the team that ignored warnings quit.

Musk had a deep scar on his body. The revenue from ads was supposed to be shifted to subscriptions. Musk torched the company's ad business, the source of the vast majority of its billions in revenue. The Blue disaster accelerated a rush of advertisers abandoning the platform and by December, what was left of the sales team began offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in free ad spend to lure back marketers.

Employees knew what Musk didn’t want – content moderation, free gourmet lunches – but had few clues to what he did want

Musk blamed the company's drop in revenue on groups that pressured advertisers. It was Musk who was to blame.

Musk summoned his remaining employees to address them directly for the first time on 10 November. He talked about the state of the business and said there would be more layoffs. The entire staff had been promised the freedom to work anywhere they wanted. If you can show up in an office but don't show up at the office, you can resign. He said it was over.

There was a burst of signals, called slack and signal. This would be a fundamental change to their employment contracts, and employees did not have an obligation to return to office.

She decided she had reached her limit. Forced employees to work from the office on short notice was immoral. She told them not to leave. She told them to let him fire them. Why should Musk get what he wants? She was let go five days later.

Musk gave his remaining employees an ultimatum. He said that workers would need to be extremely hardcore and work long hours. The old way of doing business wasn't working anymore. Only exceptional performance will be considered a passing grade. Employees were told to sign a pledge by the end of the workday.

A fake Nintendo Twitter account showing Mario flipping the bird

An example of the fake verified accounts that flooded the platform following the launch of the paid verification system Twitter Blue. Photograph: @nIntendoofus / twitter

Who would want that? Employees were still waiting for a clear idea of what the new service could look like. Employees knew what Musk didn't want but had no idea what he wanted. Is it legal for a person to not check a box on a form?

The staff was gone by the end of the year. Employees were told not to go on long Christmas vacations. Musk stopped publishing private information online for their colleagues just when they were starting to feel less depressed.

The journalist Matt Taibbi was invited by Musk to comb through internal documents and publish what he called the "theTwitter Files". The intent was to give credence to the idea that the deep state is beholden to the machinations of the Democrats. It is a social media company and a crime scene.

The names and emails of rank and file ex-employees involved in communications with government officials were published by Taibbi in an impossible to follow thread. The personal email of Jack Dorsey was published by Taibbi, but not the personal email of a sitting congressman.

The old regime governed by its own whims and biases and it sure looks like the new regime has the same problem
Bari Weiss, journalist

The employees rushed to warn the operations analyst that she was going to get a lot of abuse.

Musk bent the company's free speech policies to protect himself while his journalists put former employees at risk. After one of his children was allegedly followed by a fan in South Pasadena, Musk blamed aTwitter account that tracked public data about the location of his private jet. The account of the owner of the ElonJet account was suspended. Several journalists from CNN, the New York Times and other news organizations were suspended for using social media to report news.

Bari Weiss, one of Musk's other Twitter Files journalists, said that the new regime has the same problem as the old one. I don't like it in either case. Musk followed her on social media.

Musk has stopped paying his bills because of the haemorrhaging money. The landlords of the San Francisco and London offices of the micro-blogging site are trying to get their money back. Office furniture has been auctioned off by the social media site.

Donald Trump

Trump propelled himself into the White House in part by harnessing hate and vitriol via his

The real Donald Trump has a feed.

Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

On Christmas Eve, it was announced that it would downsize a data centre in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as shutting down a data centre in California. Engineers had a hard time keeping the service running. The site was down for more than 12 hours in Australia and New Zealand in January. It was not as bad as Musk had predicted. The platform continued to hum along after the relaunch ofTwitter Blue.

Late in the year, a prominent face was gone from a messaging service. Nobody knew why. Some joked that Musk's ring wasn't enough to keep people safe. Simon no longer has a account on the social networking site.

There will be repercussions for Musk's handling of social media. Musk agreed to at least match the company's existing severance package, which offered two months' pay as well as other valuable benefits. He laid off employees with minimum notice and refused to pay some awards. More than 500 employees are pursuing legal action against Musk for what they are owed, in addition to his alleged discrimination against minority groups in his handling of the layoffs.

Shevat said that he was paid out for the acquisition of his startup and wasn't doing this for the money.

Musk is starting to look like he's lost. The company's shares began trading at $400. The stock price of the company dropped by 25%. It plummeted again after Musk bought the social networking site. Musk is being asked to step away from the company. One member of Musk's transition team said, "What the fuck does this have to do with cars."

Musk said he intended to be the company's CEO for a short time. Those watching the nosedive, whether with horror or schadenfreude, can't help but wonder how long he can wait. His reputation as a genius has been damaged by his failures at the social networking site. How smart could he be, the guy who bought a company for a lot more than it was worth, then drove what was left of it into the ground?

As the year came to a close, Musk deviated from pride in the site's usage metrics to what might have been more sober self-assessments of his situation. He urged people not to be clowns on the clown car. It's too late!

It was the steadily improving technical architecture that made him certain. What it lacked in size it more than made up for in technical competence. Musk said that the infrastructure was getting better by the day.

Musk was vindicated in a number of respects. The platform survived even though it was less stable now. He promised to rightsize the company and now it has less than 50 employees.

The policies that attempted to keep that platform safe, the company culture that built it into one of the world's most influential social networks, and the trust of users who populate it every day are all broken by Musk.

Musk wrote in a short thread on Christmas Eve that it felt like understanding howTwitter works. It works even after I disconnected one of the more sensitive server rack.

There was a crash four days later. Many users submitted reports of problems accessing the site. Something went wrong, but don't worry, it's not your fault.

One user asked if anyone could see what was going on.

Whatever was happening in the world at large appeared on Musk's screen as he intended.

He said that it works for him.

This is an extract of an article that was published in New York Magazine.