Twitter workers face reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner

Employees reacted with shock and dismay on Monday as Musk’s $44 billion takeover bid went through

Twitter employees reacted with shock and dismay Monday as a new reality sank in: Elon Musk — the world’s richest man, free speech defender, and strong critic of Twitter — would be the company’s new owner.

On Twitter, in private messages, and interviews with The Washington Post, employees expressed fear about Musk’s $44 billion takeovers. As a result, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and board chair Bret Taylor held an internal town hall on Monday afternoon. The leaders tried to assure anxious staff but offered few direct answers.

A central concern was that Musk would attempt to break down safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years, according to the interviews and tweets and audio from the town hall obtained by The Post.

Some tweeted tear-filled emojis and memes of people having emotional breakdowns, while others told The Post they were too in shock to speak. At Monday’s town hall, leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising.

“Totally understand that this is entertainment for some,” one employee tweeted. “But please understand that this is certainly not entertainment for me.”

“The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID,” another tweeted.

Not all employees were pessimistic about Musk’s arrival. “Elon did not tie up 20 percent of his net worth to destroy Twitter,” a Twitter employee told The Post, noting that the company was behind its peers on many fronts. “I think a change like this may be what Twitter needs.” Nevertheless, the employee described being “cautiously optimistic” about Musk.

To many observers and employees, Musk’s acquisition bid looked unlikely at first. Musk didn’t appear to have enough funds to make the offer on his own, and Twitter’s board appeared to attempt to derail the deal.

But in recent days, Musk said he secured the financing through loans, and on Monday, the company announced in a news release that the acquisition had gone through. The addition, which would rank among the largest-ever activist takeovers of a publicly-traded company, would take the company private over three to six months, executives said in the town hall.

Musk’s involvement in Twitter, which began this month when he made public that he had acquired a large stake in the company, had already produced outcries from employees.

In dozens of internal messages obtained by The Post, workers expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could damage the company’s culture and make it harder for people to do their jobs. Observers and misinformation researchers echoed the criticism.

The company, which is based in liberal San Francisco and has more than 5,000 employees, has spent years building a progressive corporate culture that allows employees to say just about anything they want and to live anywhere they choose.

Twitter was the first company to take action against former president Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021. Engineering teams have spent years building tools to fight spam, misinformation, and hate speech under an initiative known as healthy conversations.

“I don’t know any non-engineer who works on health issues who sees how this helps,” said a Twitter employee in an interview in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the company’s health division that enforces rules against harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. “Most find it dispiriting.”

Agrawal said leadership “will continue to spend time with Elon to learn more, and as we learn more, we will share it will you.” He also said his team would seek to understand better what Musk’s “aspirations and ambitions might be” so that executives could figure out how to “best collaborate” with the new owner.

According to chats during the town hall, employees appeared unsatisfied according to conversations that an employee described to The Post. A group of employees created a document of “questions for Elon Musk,” while others asked whether he would restore Trump’s Twitter account during the town hall. Some asked whether leadership was concerned about an employee’s departure.

According to Bloomberg News, the company also said it would prevent employees from making any changes to Twitter’s service until Friday, a move that could keep employees from retaliating by doing damage to Musk’s Twitter account.

The concern has precedent: A Twitter employee temporarily took down Trump’s account years ago.

Joe Menn contributed to this report.

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