Elon Musk, plus a circle of confidants, tightens control over Twitter

Elon Musk and a group of his advisers have tightened their grip over Twitter, meeting with company executives to work on layoffs, ordering up product changes, talking with advertisers and reviewing content moderation policies, according to more than a dozen current and former employees involved in the efforts.

The priorities for the world’s richest man and his advisers at Twitter are twofold, five of the people said: They are working on how to trim the company’s ranks while also exploring a slew of changes to Twitter’s mobile app.

For now, the timing and scope of layoffs remains fluid as lists of the top and lower performers at the company are finalized, the people said. Musk’s advisers have also assigned a team of Twitter’s engineers to work on its “verification” program, the system that doles out badges to high-profile or notable users to confirm their profiles’ authenticity. Twitter could charge users $20 a month to retain their verified status, two people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Musk, 51, flew to New York on Sunday after spending much of last week at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, according to one person familiar with his movements and a Twitter account that tracks the location of his private jet. Some of his trusted confidants remain in San Francisco, the people said, including David Sacks, a venture capitalist, and Sriram Krishnan, a former Twitter product leader and partner at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which invested in Musk’s buyout of Twitter.

Other advisers, many of whom were in a “war room” with Musk at Twitter’s headquarters last week, include Jared Birchall, the head of Musk’s family office; Alex Spiro, his personal lawyer; and Jason Calacanis, a tech investor and podcaster, said six people with knowledge of the matter. Musk also brought about 50 engineers, product leaders and staff members to Twitter from his other companies, such as electric carmaker Tesla, tunnel company the Boring Co. and rocket maker SpaceX, said four people with knowledge of the matter and internal documents viewed by The New York Times.

Their actions have thrown Twitter’s 7,500 employees into upheaval, with current and former workers trading private messages and forming group chats to discuss what is happening at the company. Some are calling Musk’s advisers “Elon’s goons.” Many are worried about whether they will still have jobs.

Musk, who has a reputation as an aggressive manager, has moved quickly to overhaul Twitter since he completed the $44 billion buyout of the company Thursday. He immediately fired the company’s CEO, chief financial officer and others. He also said he would form a content moderation council to decide what kinds of posts to keep up on Twitter and what to take down, and said he would not instantly reinstate users who had been banned from the platform.

His changes are not expected to subside anytime soon. Musk, who loaded $13 billion of debt onto Twitter for the buyout, faces financial pressure to turn its business around so he can pay the interest — about $1 billion a year — on the debt. It will be a challenge. Twitter has not turned a profit for eight out of the past 10 years, and the broader digital advertising market has been hit by global economic fears.

Musk did not respond to a request for comment, while Twitter declined to comment. Some of Musk’s advisers have tweeted about how they are working with the billionaire on helping the company make the transition.

Musk’s work on changing Twitter’s verification program was reported earlier by The Verge.

On Monday, Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder, disclosed in a regulatory filing that he had rolled over his stake in the social media service into the new company under Musk’s ownership. The value of Dorsey’s stake was roughly $1 billion based on Musk’s purchase price for Twitter.

At Twitter’s headquarters last week, Musk and his advisers met with top managers, two people involved in the meetings said. Those managers were asked to explain their teams and what their divisions did, the people said, including detailing how Twitter’s algorithms sort and serve up content, the relationships with key advertisers and how the advertising platforms work.

Twitter managers involved in the conversations said they felt as if they were being evaluated for their jobs. Some slept at the office Friday and Saturday nights, they said.

The managers were also asked for lists of their teams and the “top performers,” said four people involved in the deliberations, adding that this was a way for Musk and his colleagues to determine who to keep and who to cut. Spiro and Birchall are crunching the numbers and looking closely at layoffs, two people said.

In the event of mass layoffs, Musk is required by the U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act to provide advance notice to the government and employees. Employees have not received any notification, four employees said. A spokesperson for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that, as of Monday, the city had not received such a notice.

“There’s a lot of pressure to do it as quickly as possible,” Brian J.M. Quinn, a professor at Boston College Law School, said of job cuts. Musk “is under pressure almost from the get-go to reduce costs at Twitter. Revenues are obviously down.”

At least two Twitter employees, who were publicly critical of Musk and his takeover, were fired in recent days, said two people at the company.

Musk and his advisers have also explored immediate changes to the app to bolster revenue. That includes changes to Twitter’s verification program, which was free for approved users. Musk now wants to charge people $20 a month to keep their verified status and set a Nov. 7 deadline for the change, or people on the verification team would face termination, two people with knowledge of the efforts said. Terms of the new program are still in discussion and could change during product development, they added.

Some employees said the change could trigger tax implications for Twitter, while others worried about regulatory pushback, two employees said. Some verified users who are known as Very Important Tweeters could also be on a list led by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which is an agency of the Treasury Department that manages and administers international sanctions. It may be illegal for a company to accept money from certain users on such a list.

At least one product shift — an alteration of Twitter’s logged-out home page that now shows trending topics instead of a login screen — has already been carried out, in what three people said was a test of engineers’ capabilities.

On Sunday, Musk also ran a poll on Twitter asking if he should “bring back Vine,” a short video platform that the social media company bought and later shut down.

Some current and former employees have created private Slack groups outside of Twitter to commiserate with one another, said four people who are in the groups. In one such group, former Twitter employees are trying to spread “positive” messages as insiders worry about the fate of their employment.

On Monday, some workers tweeted dark jokes about refreshing their email inboxes as they awaited a layoffs announcement.

On Sunday night, after a Twitter account that follows Musk’s private plane showed that it had landed at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, speculation arose among Twitter employees that he would appear at the company’s New York office this week.

“We’re having a very productive day meeting with the marketing and advertising community here in New York,” Calacanis, one of Musk’s advisers, tweeted Monday. “So many great ideas on how to increase joy on the platform!”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/elon-musk-circle-of-confidants-tighten-control-twitter-acquisition-8241974/