Twitter has seen its share of disruption in 16 years, from absent leaders to employee uprisings. But in the past six weeks, Musk has taken dysfunction to the next level at the company’s San Francisco headquarters and beyond.
The impression among employees is that Musk is playing with Twitter “like a dog playing with a toy,” said a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “Whatever happens: the company is at stake now. I don’t think it’s a situation where Elon leaves and things can go back to normal.”
Twitter’s stock price has plunged 25 percent in the last two weeks, it’s already a long way off below the $54.20 per share offered by Musk and a far cry from its high of $77.06 in February 2021. Twitter employees and investors fear that if Musk leaves, the company, long a coveted bauble for Silicon Valley’s billionaire class because it is the Internet’s town square, will be battered and exposed. It would have a weakened CEO and board, vacancies in its executive ranks and a low stock price in an unstable market. But some employees also worry that he’s easy prey for another buyer who could further damage his reputation.
Leading conservatives — enthusiastic about Musk’s absolutist stance on free speech — are already gaining followers since Twitter accepted his offer, according to a Washington Post analysis, while some liberals are losing audience. The trend suggests that if Musk or a future buyer adapts the platform to their political will, it could render Twitter irrelevant by undermining its mass-market appeal.
Elon Musk says deal can’t ‘move forward’ until Twitter tests bot numbers
“I don’t see how it comes out a winner in any way except to disable Twitter,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Twitter’s board issued a statement Tuesday saying it was unwilling to renegotiate with Musk.
“The Board and Mr. Musk have agreed to a transaction at $54.20 per share. We believe that this agreement is in the best interest of all shareholders. We intend to close the transaction and enforce the merger agreement,” the statement said.
Twitter declined to comment on whether Musk would destroy the company. A person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing deliberations, said the attitude on the board was that the Musk campaign could come back to bite him because it would damage his own asset.
Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Over the past 16 years, Twitter has become one of the largest and most influential social media platforms on the planet, with 229 million daily users. Moderators have gotten better at weeding out false information related to the election or the coronavirus and at protecting people from the worst kinds of harassment. But like other big platforms, it is still used to amplify misinformation and can foster an atmosphere of bullying, one that Musk himself seems to enjoy taking part in. He too has had trouble growing his revenue and user base.
Musk says he has big plans to grow Twitter’s business. But his motives, especially since he also runs Tesla, a much larger and more valuable company, remain opaque even as he tweets incessantly about the deal. On Friday, he declared it “temporarily on hold,” citing concerns about Twitter’s claim that fewer than 5 percent of its users are fake accounts, known as bots. Two hours later, he said that he was still “committed to the acquisition.”
But on Monday, Musk tweeted a poop emoji at Agrawal after the Twitter CEO wrote a lengthy thread about the nature of bots and Twitter’s efforts to control them. Earlier Tuesday, Musk declared that the deal “cannot move forward” until Twitter shows “<5% proof."
Investors and other Silicon Valley Observers speculate that Musk is undermining Twitter to drive down its share price, and Musk said at a conference Monday that he may try to renegotiate the deal. To buy Twitter, he plans to take out a multimillion-dollar loan against his assets, such as Tesla shares, which have fallen in value recently. He also noted that he might retire completely.
Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said Musk has “cold feet” and is using “the bot problem as a scapegoat to get out of the Twitter deal.”
He said the board would be under significant pressure to renegotiate. “There’s a zero percent chance that the offering price will stay the same, based on where the stock is trading right now,” he said.
The game has left Twitter executives nervous and divided on how to respond. Some are eager to respond to Musk on Twitter, but others argue that “it’s not productive to engage publicly,” according to another person familiar with discussions of the deal, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. The company’s usually prolific main account, @Twitter, hasn’t tweeted since April 1, three days before Musk revealed that he had taken a sizable stake in the company.
Twitter’s lawyer has long weighed safety and freedom of expression. Then Musk called her.
“It’s hard to have meaningful dialogue against a troll with 80 million baby trolls following him,” one of the people said. On Tuesday, Musk’s followers, which have also grown about 15 percent since he announced his interest in the company, stood at nearly 94 million.
Meanwhile, sections of Twitter’s 7,500-person workforce are torn between preparing to leave the company or preparing for battle, according to interviews with six current and former employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. or antagonize your former employer. Some struggle simply to get through the next day.
On Monday, Twitter provided documentation to the Securities and Exchange Commission with more details about the deal, as well as a frequently asked questions and answers session. But the responses said that Twitter employees were expected to carry on as if things were normal: the document used the phrase “business as usual” nine times.
Last week, Agrawal unexpectedly fired two long-serving top executives, including one who had been promoted in December. In a company-wide email obtained by The Post, Agrawal said the immediate departures of Kayvon Beykpour and Bruce Falck, who oversaw Twitter’s consumer products and revenue, were the result of the company’s need to manage costs. .
Three other top executives, vice presidents Ilya Brown and Katrina Lane and Max Schmeiser, head of data science, announced their departures on Tuesday. the company confirmed. Bloomberg first reported the exits.
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“Just when you think no more wheels can fall off!” one of the former Twitter employees told The Post, reacting to the latest news.
Musk’s Twitter trolling has gone on for months. He questioned the company’s free speech practices, tweeted a meme critical of a Twitter executive, Vijaya Gadde, and polled his followers on whether Twitter should introduce an edit button for tweets. He has told his followers that they are being “manipulated by [Twitter’s] algorithm in ways you don’t realize.”
His latest focus, on how many of its users are bots, is a touchy subject for a social media company with a history of manipulation by Russian trolls. The issue is a long-standing concern for Twitter, but the 5 percent number is industry-wide standard. Twitter has been reporting the same figure for years, as has Facebook, even though Musk’s tweets suggested the problem was new to him.
Following Musk’s Friday tweets about bots, he tweeted over the weekend that Twitter’s legal department had called him to complain. By Monday, Agrawal tried to defuse the problem himself. “We suspend more than half a million spam accounts every day, usually before any of you see them on Twitter. We also block millions of accounts every week that we suspect may be spam, if they can’t pass human verification challenges (captchas, phone verification, etc.),” he tweeted.
But cleaning up fake accounts is tricky, he wrote, because the most dangerous ones often look real. Meanwhile, “many accounts that seem fake on the surface are actually real people” who don’t deserve to be suspended or removed.
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And conversely, some accounts that may appear to be spam are legitimate, Agrawal wrote, such as “FirstnameBunchOfNumbers with no profile picture and weird tweets.”
His serious and technocratic explanation of the company’s methods of handling fake accounts failed to satisfy Musk and his followers. In addition to the poop emoji, Musk tweeted, “Have you tried just calling them?” On Tuesday, he continued to poll his users on whether his experience aligned with Twitter’s claims.
Some Twitter workers are rooting for Musk, with many saying that if an employee exodus happens, other engineers will want to join in because they are captivated by Musk’s reputation as an innovator. By now, the situation has become so tense that at least two top executives have personal security details, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.
Other employees wonder what Musk’s attacks are for. Although he seems destructive, they ask him why he would want to destroy a service that he relies on as his main marketing tool and that he would be responsible for if the deal goes ahead.
Harvard’s Donovan said he believes Musk’s strong ideological views, including his opposition to the mainstream media and his outspoken disagreement with Twitter’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump, motivate him as much as his financial interests. The more he tweets, the more he can kick people who disagree with him out of the company, before he becomes a formal owner. The blanker the canvas, the easier it will be for Musk and his co-investors to mold the platform to suit his agendas and interests, he said.
“I don’t see a viable business model where someone gets $44 billion back,” he said. “But in terms of politics, culture and economics, Twitter is an incredibly influential space, and the value of that may be priceless.”
Musk’s question about bots is nothing new for Twitter
Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.