HHome office, downsizing, user numbers and even aliens: For the first time, Elon Musk has answered questions directly from employees of the online platform Twitter, whose takeover he has agreed. A wide range of topics were discussed, but Musk said little about the status of the transaction, which he himself has increasingly doubted in recent weeks. But he often sounded like someone who sees himself as a future owner, sometimes saying “we” when speaking of Twitter.
Musk’s tone was generally forgiving, having often lashed out at the company and its leadership recently. Nevertheless, his appearance was apparently not well received by many employees, as American media wrote with reference to internal Twitter communication platforms.
Meanwhile, there is also unrest among the staff at Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX. A letter apparently written by a group of employees circulated there, describing Musk’s public behavior as a “distraction and embarrassment”. According to media reports, SpaceX has fired several employees who worked on the letter.
Twitter staff alarmed
Musk, who alongside SpaceX also runs the electric car manufacturer Tesla, agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion in April, having previously made himself one of the largest shareholders by buying shares. His advances have caused considerable uncertainty among the workforce, especially since he has repeatedly publicly criticized Twitter’s management and business model. Among other things, he accused Twitter of excessive censorship of content and suggested that this would change under him. For example, he has said he would lift former US President Donald Trump’s current Twitter ban.
It also alarmed Twitter workers when Musk announced strict attendance requirements for Tesla and threatened to fire employees who continue to work remotely for a large portion of their time. Twitter has promised its employees that they will continue to be able to work from anywhere. A few weeks ago, Musk also began to question the transaction itself. He declared the purchase agreement “temporarily suspended” and claimed he had the right to cancel it altogether. As justification, he referred to “spam” or “fake” accounts on Twitter, which are not backed by real users. He surmised the number could be much higher than the company is admitting.
Many observers consider this to be a pretense and see it as an attempt to get out of the contract or to negotiate the price down afterwards. Parallel to a general weakening of the stock market environment, Twitter’s share price has recently fallen significantly, it is currently below $38 and thus well below the agreed purchase price of $54.20.
“People have to listen to me”
In the question and answer session, Musk reiterated concerns about fake user accounts, but without going into detail about any consequences for the takeover. He said several times that he loves Twitter and stated that the goal was to increase the number of users from just under 230 million to more than one billion. He indicated that there would need to be a downsizing to bring down costs, which are currently ahead of sales. However, top performers need not worry. He would also allow “extraordinary” employees to work from home, although he generally prefers to be present in the office. When asked if he wants to become CEO of Twitter himself, he said he doesn’t care about titles, “but people have to listen to me.” In the meantime he slipped into a fundamental philosophizing, talked about the future of human civilization and aliens.
Meanwhile, Musk had to listen to unusually harsh criticism from the SpaceX staff. In the internal letter, published by online portal The Verge, employees described their CEO’s tweets as “harmful” and called on the company to publicly condemn them: “SpaceX must quickly and explicitly distance itself from Elon’s personal brand.” Briefs also lamented “a culture that treats employees as consumable resources.” It is unclear how many employees are behind the action, but consequences quickly arose. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, reportedly wrote in an internal message that the company had laid off a group of employees. She criticized the letter as “activism that overshoots the mark”. If employees have concerns, they should raise them with their manager, Human Resources, or Legal, rather than emailing thousands of colleagues.