Inside Elon’s “extremely hardcore” TwitterInside Elon’s “extremely hardcore” TwitterGiphy GIFGiphy GIF

Inside Elon’s “extremely hardcore” Twitter

In April 2022, Elon Musk acquired a 9.2 ­percent stake in Twitter, making him the company’s largest shareholder, and was offered a seat on the board.
“Elon Musk is a brilliant engineer and scientist, and he has a track record of having a Midas touch, when it comes to growing the companies he’s helped lead,” he wrote in Slack.
In its early days, when Twitter was at its most Twittery, circa 2012, executives called the company “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” That was the era when the platform was credited for amplifying ...
...the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring, when it seemed like ­giving everyone a microphone might ­actually bring down dictatorships and right the wrongs of neoliberal capitalism.
People were audibly sobbing in the bathrooms. A new consensus that the site was a sewer made it worth a lot less money.
“At least 50% of my tweets were made on a porcelain throne,” he tweeted one evening in late 2021.
Simon, who owned a ­portrait of himself dressed as a 19th-century French general, told his team, which managed advertising services, that he wanted to build ... “impact-focused, egalitarian and empirical culture, where any team member, with a strong data-driven justification, gets the metaphorical center stage.”
On Slack, a product manager responded to Simon’s enthusiasm for Musk with skepticism: “I take your point, but as a childhood Greek mythology nerd, I feel it is important ... point out that story behind the idea of the Midas touch is not a positive one. It’s a cautionary tale about what is lost when you only focus on wealth.”
On October 26, an engineer and mother of two — let’s call her Alicia — sat in a glass conference room in San Francisco trying to explain the details of Twitter’s tech stack to Elon Musk.
“I was writing C programs in the ’90s,” he said dismissively.
“I understand how ­computers work.”
“You didn’t need someone in a position of power to explicitly grant you permission,” Alicia says.
“It was very much a bottom-up organization.” She respected what he had done at his companies and felt hopeful that, as someone who thought of himself as an engineer, he would support her highly technical work.
“Please be ready to show your recent code (within last 30-60 preferably) on your computer. If you have already printed, please shred in the bins on SF-Tenth. Thank you!”
“We really should be able to do longform video and attract the best content creators by giving them a better cut than YouTube,” he said, according to Alicia’s recollection.
“David, this meeting is too technical for you,” Musk said, waving his hand to ­dismiss Sacks. People were audibly sobbing in the bathrooms.
Musk posing as the world’s richest prop comic, announcing his takeover by lugging a kitchen sink into the office: “Entering ­Twitter HQ—let that sink in!” (181.2K retweets, 43.6K quote tweets, 1.3M likes.)
“Hey all don’t forget to complete your q3 goals!” one employee wrote darkly on Slack.
When employees followed up on Slack, the head of internal communications cryptically said she would “send out a communication when there are further details.”
Employees were instructed to “print out 50 pages of code you’ve done in the last 30 days” and get ready to show it to Musk in person.
“Please be ready to show your recent code (within last 30-60 preferably) on your computer. If you have already printed, please shred in the bins on SF-Tenth. Thank you!” It took more than a code review to faze her.
(“Python is more at Musk’s level,” she says.)
The mandate had felt like a stunt, and she’d doubted he would really engage: “I’m not gonna explain the project I’ve spent ten years working on in a fraction of an hour competing with ten other people — I’m just not.”
“We didn’t actually get to show our code to Elon,” she says, laughing.
“Which is a shame. I was very much looking forward to it.”
“They said, ‘We don’t know. Elon wants a stack rank,’ ” Shevat says.
“If I were to get that list, I would probably throw it in the garbage because it’s completely useless,” Shevat says.
“Who are the best people on your team?” they would ask.
Meanwhile, ­managers were fielding worried questions from ­workers, but the only one that mattered — “Will I still have a job here?” — no one could answer.
The ­message was “group meetings are no longer a thing,” Shevat recalls.
“And if you do that, you risk getting fired.”
“When your team is pushing round the clock to make deadlines sometimes you #SleepWhereYouWork,” she said. In early November, she posted a picture of herself in an eye mask and sleeping bag at the office: “When your team is pushing round the clock to make deadlines ...
...sometimes you #SleepWhereYouWork,” she said. In early November, she posted a picture of herself in an eye mask and sleeping bag at the office: “When your team is pushing round the clock to make deadlines sometimes you #SleepWhereYouWork,” she said.
“He didn’t want to understand anything,” Shevat says.
“I would have worked really hard for him,” he says.
“From ‘Twitter’ looool what fucking cowards,” a former employee said by text.
“Your people are Twitter you shits.”
“The alternation between relief about being done, sadness about [waves at gaps and fires where there was cool people / hope], anxiety that Musk might ...
...fuck with severance, and exhaustion at thought of interviewing is a bit much,” wrote the same former employee, “but veering towards relief.”
The worker left a message for Twitter leadership in a main Slack channel before their access was cut: “news articles aren’t comms. Tweets from an account associated with half-baked rants, copy pasted ...
...memes, and the occasional misinfo aren’t comms. Secondhand internal sharing and employee sleuthing aren’t comms … I also hope failure of this past week hangs heavy on you to remind you to do better.”
“I feel heartbroken that this process has required many good people to leave ­Twitter, but the business was not profitable and drastic cuts ...
...were going to be required to survive, no matter who owned the company,” she wrote on Slack, further alienating herself from colleagues.
After originally proposing to charge $20 a month for verification, he was talked down to $8 after Stephen King tweeted at his 7 million ...
...followers, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.”
“You build trust by being transparent, predictable, and thoughtful,” one former employee says.
“We were none of those with this launch.” The layoffs had left teams in charge of ­Twitter’s most critical infrastructure and user experience with a skeletal staff.
“This is going to be the challenge,” he wrote.
When she’d talked to Musk about taking the job, she brought up her concerns that Twitter executives had historically displayed ...
...a relentless focus on juicing the numbers that mattered to Wall Street, often at the expense of making Twitter safer.
Musk reassured her that trust and safety would be top priorities and later told her team he didn’t “care about the impact on revenue.” “He’s like, ‘I want you to make the platform safe,’ ” she said.
“ ‘If there’s ten other things that come before trust and safety, you’re really not going to be effective as a team.’ ” Irwin believed him.
“In my conversation with Elon, what became very clear was he actually really, really, really cares about this, more so than other executives have.”
Musk said repeatedly that Twitter’s content-­moderation approach should “hew close to the law,” yet speech laws are different in every country.
“The speed at which he moves and expects people to move can be dizzying, for sure,” Irwin says.
“It’s probably the fastest-moving organization right now that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
A former employee saw the Trump ­decision differently: “It shattered the naïve illusion that moderation would be anything more than dancing to the whims of one man’s inflated ego.”
“Basically, if you can show up in an office and you do not show up at the office, resignation accepted. End of story,” he said.
A lawyer pointed out that this would be a fundamental change to their employment contracts, and employees did not have ...
...“an obligation to return to office.” One person said, “That’s so low.” And later, “Ok I’m quitting tomorrow ”
“Elon’s my new boss and I’m stoked!” he wrote on Linked­In.
“I decided to send him a slack message. I figured you miss 100% of the shots you don’t make ” On November 16, Musk emailed his remaining 2,900 employees an ultimatum.
He was building Twitter 2.0, he said, and workers would need to be “extremely hardcore,” logging “long hours at high intensity.” The old way of doing business was out.
Now, “only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.” He asked employees to sign a pledge through Google Forms committing to the new standard by the end of the next workday.
But to many, Musk’s handling of the initial layoffs, coupled with the lack of details about what staying for Twitter 2.0 would entail, had soured them for good.
“This is not a right-wing takeover of Twitter,” he told employees.
“It is a ­moderate-wing takeover of Twitter.”
“You’re not getting it, you’re not understanding,” he said, sounding frustrated.
“I just used WeChat as an example. We can’t freakin’ clone WeChat; that would be absurd.” What about rival social platforms?
“I don’t think about competitors … I don’t care what Facebook, YouTube, or what anyone else is doing. Couldn’t give a damn. We just need ... make Twitter as goddamn amazing as possible.” What about rebuilding Twitter’s leadership team that he’d decimated in his first week?
“Initially, there will be a lot of changes, and then over time you’ll see far fewer changes.”
“Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene,” Musk tweeted.
In an impossible-to-follow tweet thread that unfolded over several hours, Taibbi published the names and emails of rank-and-file ex-employees involved ... communications with government officials, insinuating that Twitter had suppressed the New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
“What a shitty thing to do,” one worker wrote in a large Slack channel of former employees.
“The names of rank and file members being revealed is fucked,” wrote another. Musk followed this with a personal attack on Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety.
Even Musk’s new ally Weiss denounced the crackdown: “The old regime at Twitter governed by its own whims and biases and ... sure looks like the new regime has the same problem. I oppose it in both cases.” Musk responded by unfollowing her.
The repercussions for Musk’s handling of Twitter are now coming.
“I think leadership doesn’t end after you get fired,” says Shevat, adding that he was already paid out for the acquisition of his start-up and isn’t doing this for the money.
“I still feel responsible for my team and for my PMs and for my engineers. So I think that this is my way of showing them what is the right thing to do.”
As one person on Musk’s transition team put it, “What the fuck does this have to do with cars?”
We accept credit card, Apple Pay and Google Pay.
“He’s too interested in seeking attention,” she said.
“Twitter is a very, a very dangerous drug for anybody who has that personality.”
“Don’t be the clown on the clown car!” he tweeted on December 27.
“Fractal of Rube Goldberg machines … is what it feels like understanding how ­Twitter works,” Musk wrote in a short thread on Christmas Eve.
“And yet work it does … Even after I disconnected one of the more sensitive server racks.”
Some got an error message reading, “Something went wrong, but don’t fret — it’s not your fault.”
“Can anyone see this or is Twitter broken,” one user tweeted into the apparent void.