How Elon Musk is changing Twitter, from mass layoffs to paid check marks

Elon Musk has only been in charge of Twitter since late October. But already, he’s turned the company and its platform upside down.

In the days after Musk took over, he booted top executives, slashed rank-and-file headcount, pushed engineers to work harder, and began fast-tracking a hodgepodge of potentially revenue-generating features, including charging users to get or keep a verification check mark. Musk also might be getting Twitter into the payments business.

And while Musk didn’t immediately change any of Twitter’s policies against offensive content, in the hours after Musk took over there was a notable surge in hate speech on the app. Some of the users posting felt emboldened by Musk’s “free speech absolutist” attitude, and actively tried to test the limits of what they could say on Twitter under the company’s new leadership. Others have tested the limits of Musk’s free speech stance by making fun of him personally. After a group of verified Twitter users such as comedian Kathy Griffin impersonated Musk by changing their Twitter names, the tech CEO suspended their accounts and tightened the platform’s rules around impersonation.

Many current and former employees, social media academics, and human rights advocates are concerned that Musk could change Twitter for the worse, turning it into an even more intense cesspool of negative content than it already is. But others hope Musk can breathe new life into a platform that was already bleeding its most prolific users and, for years, has struggled to turn a profit.

Here are some of the most significant ways Musk has changed the company so far.

Gutting Twitter’s staff

Musk began his reign as Twitter’s chief by firing top executives. Within hours of the deal closing, CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, and head of legal policy, trust, and safety Vijaya Gadde were shown the door.

The week after he took over, Musk continued firing executives, including Twitter’s ad chief, general manager of core tech, and chief marketing officer Leslie Berland (who just a few days earlier sent a cheery note announcing that Musk was visiting the San Francisco offices). He also pulled in more than 50 Tesla engineers to work for Twitter and assembled his own circle of trusted advisers.

Now, Musk is moving on to gutting Twitter’s rank-and-file staff. He has reportedly laid off an estimated 50 percent — upward of 3,700 employees — from the company. Twitter informed its staff that layoffs would happen by 9 am PT on Friday in a company-wide email. By late Thursday evening, several employees told Recode or posted publicly on Twitter that they had already been locked out of their work email and Slack accounts without any formal notice of whether they had been laid off.

These cuts are the largest in Twitter’s history, and several current and former employees Recode spoke with are concerned that as a result Twitter’s operations as a platform could be at risk. Musk has also reportedly planned to slash $1 billion from Twitter’s infrastructure costs, such as server space, according to a report from Reuters, furthering those concerns.

While Musk hasn’t addressed employees directly about the cuts, on Friday afternoon Musk tweeted about the layoffs and discussed them at an investor conference. He framed the layoffs as necessary because before the deal, “Twitter was having pretty serious revenue challenges and cost challenges,” according to the New York Times.

Ahead of the layoffs, some employees were fighting to keep their jobs and prove their value to the company by working on special high-priority projects, many of them at Musk’s direction.

Several Twitter employees told Recode that some colleagues worked 12-hour shifts over the weekend and slept on sofas in the office in order to make Musk’s grueling deadlines.

“We’re trying to shoot our shot,” said one Twitter employee.

But many employees who were pulled into special projects and worked grueling shifts were still laid off, sources told Recode.

One Twitter employee described the morale at the company after the layoffs as low, and said that many colleagues who survived this round of cuts wish they had gotten laid off and gotten severance instead. Twitter is giving many laid-off employees full pay and benefits through at least January, although it’s not clear if this applied to all employees, particularly those outside the US, sources said.

Shortly after the cuts, a group of five employees sued Twitter in a class-action lawsuit, alleging the company failed to notify them of the impending layoffs as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, that requires certain employers to give a 60-day notice for mass layoffs in the US.

It seems that Twitter has changed its mind about some employees. The company reportedly asked dozens of recently laid-off employees if they wanted to return to work at the company, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Emboldening the trolls

Musk has said his primary reason for buying Twitter was to make it a haven for free speech. He’s echoed conservatives’ longstanding concerns that Twitter is politically biased against right-wing speech despite the lack of evidence of that bias.

Conservative politicians like former president Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have celebrated Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter as a major win, with Trump saying he’s happy that Twitter “will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs.”

But Musk’s more laissez-faire philosophy on content moderation has also caused another group of people to celebrate: trolls spreading racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful speech.

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