By Nicholas Carpenter || Contributing Writer
On October 27, 2022, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, officially became the head of the social media giant Twitter. Musk pledged to make Twitter a true platform of “free speech,” and he promised to unban the accounts of users that were deemed to be problematic, such as former United States President Donald Trump. He would introduce many new features to Twitter and completely restructure the company, saying that he would “bring power to the people.” With Elon Musk’s experience with the platform and his history of success with his other companies, the process was expected to go smoothly. However, what transpired after Twitter passed control over was several months of chaos, inept decisions, and constant ridicule, leaving many to believe that Twitter would collapse under Musk’s poor management.
Prior to his takeover of the company, Elon Musk had made a name for himself as the “relatable billionaire,” who consistently posted memes on Twitter and popularized cryptocurrency. Back in April, Musk had originally announced that he would be acquiring Twitter for around $43 billion dollars. His acquisition was considered a “hostile takeover” as he would be buying enough stock to take control of the company, rather than form a deal with them. Twitter did not accept his request at first, and adopted a “poison pill” strategy to prevent Elon Musk’s takeover. However, after Musk altered the conditions of the deal and increased the price to $44 billion, Musk and Twitter made an agreement. The acquisition went through in October.
Elon’s first plan of action was to overhaul Twitter’s management and make the company’s work culture more strict. Shortly after he took control of the company, he laid off several members of the high management of Twitter, including chief executive Parag Agarwal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, legal and policy executive Vijaya Gadde, and general counsel Sean Edgett. Elon also brought his own group of advisers, which he stationed in a “war room” in the company’s headquarters. In order to handle the growing debt of Twitter, Elon ordered widespread layoffs of Twitter staff and managers. Originally, his advisers proposed a layoff of 25 percent of the workforce, but Elon wanted higher. Around half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees were laid off in the coming weeks. 80 percent of Twitter’s engineering staff and the platform and infrastructure managers were laid off. Many people were notified that they were laid off via email or the company’s Slack channel. However, some people were already locked out of their accounts and unable to get the message quickly, breaking a promise Musk had made for clear emails informing employees. Elon ignored diversity concerns when deciding which employees to lay off, causing a disproportionate amount of employees who belonged to a minority group to lose their jobs. Concerns were raised about his mass layoffs from his advisers, as they violated several employment contracts and laws. But, he ignored them — arguing that he could fight each one in court if necessary. These harsh layoffs were the first step toward a more “hardcore” Twitter, which Musk made clear in a meeting with Twitter employees.
“Those who are able to go hard core and play to win, Twitter is a good place. And those who are not, totally understand, but then Twitter is not for you.” – Elon Musk
Elon’s new workplace environment was unforgiving and abusive to workers. Employees were forced to work twelve hour work-days and often slept in their office in order to meet Musk’s harsh deadlines. Employees were also forced to pay for lunch, when they were able to eat lunch for free under previous management. Elon told his workers that they had to fully commit to the new workplace environment or he would lay them off with three-months severance pay. Many employees objected to Musk’s style, which led to a large exodus of resignations. During the transition, advertisers began leaving the platform. Musk acknowledged that Twitter’s funds were in a dire condition, stating that “bankruptcy is not out of the question”.
“We just definitely need to bring in more cash than we spend. If we don’t do that and there’s a massive negative cash flow then bankruptcy is not out of the question,” – Elon Musk
One of Elon’s biggest changes to Twitter was a full revamp of Twitter’s premium service, called Twitter Blue. He introduced a new system of user verification on Twitter, which gave Twitter Blue users a blue checkmark badge on their profile. Users had to pay eight dollars to get the badge, which would “verify” their Twitter account and promote their Tweets in the algorithm. This system would replace the old system of verification, where legitimate and notable users were manually given checkmark badges by Twitter staff. Elon claimed that this new system would “give power back to the people.” As soon as the new system was rolled out, users began creating “troll accounts” in order to impersonate users and companies by appearing to be verified. The new verification system defeated the purpose of verification, as anyone could be verified if they paid for Twitter Blue — regardless of whether they were “real” or not. Drug company Eli Lilly lost around 15 million off their stock market cap after an account impersonating the company falsely posted that they are “excited to announce that insulin is free now.” Musk was forced to rework the service after impersonation ran wild on the platform, altering the badge to display whether the account was verified with Twitter Blue and banning fake accounts that didn’t have “parody” in their name and bio.
Elon Musk’s new stance on freedom of speech increased the amount of hateful content on the platform. According to a New York Times study, racist, homophobic, and anti semitic Tweets became much more common on Twitter after Musk took control. Furthermore, he was criticized for violating his own ideology of free speech after he fired several Twitter engineers after they spoke out against him in a Slack channel. One software engineer, Eric Frohnhoefer, was fired publicly on Twitter after correcting one of Elon’s tweets. In December, Musk banned the account @ElonJet, which tracked the location of his private jet from public logs, stating that the account was a form of doxxing. Musk stated that his youngest son X Æ A-12 was stalked in the family’s car in the middle of the night by someone going after Elon, which encouraged him to take a more aggressive stance on “doxxing accounts.” Many journalists wrote about the account, leading Musk to ban a large number of journalists off the platform for popularizing the “doxxing” account. After public outrage and a lot of critique for his definition of doxxing, Elon unbanned all of the journalists.
Twitter’s infrastructure also began to show signs of weakness. Elon Musk tweeted that he had “removed bloatware from Twitter’s infrastructure” in order to improve the platform’s speed. Users discovered that the two-factor authentication system that Twitter had been using stopped working, locking many users out of their accounts. One engineer discovered that the vendors that provided user data security for Twitter had contracts that expired. Many users started encouraging everyone to back up their Twitter data as the platform’s security was reportedly put at risk from Musk’s changes. On November 18, 2022, hashtags such as #RIPTwitter and #GoodbyeTwitter became trending as users began to prepare for a worst-case scenario following reports of the infrastructure of Twitter being extremely weak due to Elon firing the employees who were tasked with managing it. Although Twitter did not end up shutting down, the amount of discourse about the topic displayed that Elon’s new management caused Twitter’s user base to lose their faith in the platform. On December 18, 2022, Elon Musk tweeted a poll and asked users whether he should step down as the head of Twitter. The majority of users voted yes.
During the transition of control, Elon Musk had no clear plan of execution. He came into the Twitter headquarters with loads of ideas to improve the platform, but he was unable to handle the amount of responsibility that running a social media site entails. Only a few months into his new acquisition, Elon had put Twitter at risk of bankruptcy and broke the trust of the user base. We have no idea where Elon Musk plans to take Twitter in the future, but he will have to make some serious changes to his plan of action if he does not want his acquisition to be regarded as one of the biggest acquisition failures in history.
“Those who want power are the ones who least deserve it.” – Elon Musk
First-year Nicholas Carpenter is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.