Twitter employees search for answers as Musk takeover becomes reality
In January 2020, thousands of Twitter employees gathered in Houston for a company summit called #OneTeam. During the event, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey revealed that he had invited a surprise guest. Then, with a wave and a smile, Elon Musk appeared on giant screens above the stage. The crowd cheered, cheered and raised their fists. “We love you,” one employee shouted.
Inside Twitter today, surprise announcements about Mr. Musk are landing differently. Employees said they had largely stopped celebrating the world’s richest man since he declared his intentions this month to buy Twitter, abandon its content moderation policies and transform the listed company into a private company. On Monday, Twitter announced that it had accepted Mr. Musk’s offer to buy the company for around $44 billion.
As the fight against the takeover unfolded over the past two weeks, Twitter employees said they were frustrated that they had heard little about what it meant to them, even though Twitter reached an agreement. with Mr. Musk on Monday morning. They asked their general manager, Parag Agrawal. They asked Mr. Musk himself in questions sent to Twitter. Some even went to see Charles Schwab, the finance company that manages their stock options, to get clarification on the impact a sale of the company would have on them.
But they weren’t getting many responses before Mr. Musk’s bid was successful, said 11 Twitter employees who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, even if they didn’t. ‘it became clear that they could soon find themselves under the responsibility of Mr Musk. .
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Agrawal and Twitter Chairman Bret Taylor finally met with employees to discuss the deal. Compensation would remain largely the same under Mr. Musk, Mr. Agrawal said, but he did not give the same assurances about Twitter’s policies and culture.
“We are constantly evolving our policies,” Mr. Agrawal said in response to a question from an employee about whether former President Donald J. Trump would be allowed to return to the platform. “Once the deal is done, we don’t know which direction this company will go.”
The silence that hung over negotiations is common in battles for control, Mr. Taylor told employees. While the board talks to expensive bankers, lawyers and PR firms, employees are often kept in the dark. But for employees of Twitter, a company that billed itself as the town square of the world, finding out what’s happening to their business primarily through Twitter, the service they’ve built, was particularly bitter.
Learn more about Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter
After years of leadership wrangling, demands for change from activist investors and Mr. Trump’s tweets testing the limits, Twitter’s more than 7,000 employees are used to turmoil. But some of them say the mercurial billionaire takeover has affected them in ways that other corporate crises have not.
Employees said they fear Mr. Musk will undo years of work they’ve spent cleaning up toxic nooks on the platform, upend their stock compensation in the process of taking the company private and disrupt the culture of Twitter with its unpredictable and brusque management style. proclamations.
But Mr. Musk also has fans among Twitter’s base, and some employees welcomed his offer. In an internal Slack post seen by The New York Times that asked if employees were excited about Mr. Musk, about 10 people responded with a “Yes” emoji. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.
If Twitter is worth buying, much of its value lies in the employees who create and run the service, said David Larcker, professor of accounting and corporate governance at Stanford University. “The wild card is, what if it turns out to be a very different company than they thought they were working for? It’s an uncomfortable working relationship,” he said.
Mr. Musk has made some of his intentions clear in regulatory filings, tweets and public appearances: The company must remove nearly all of its moderation policies, which prohibit content such as violent threats, harassment and spam. It needs to provide more transparency on the algorithm it uses to boost tweets in users’ news feeds. And it must become a private enterprise.
Twitter has extended its content moderation policies since 2008, when its 25th employee was hired specifically to combat abuse on its platform. The moderation and security teams now number hundreds of employees.
Many Twitter employees feel personally invested in the company’s efforts to encourage healthy conversation – even if they don’t work directly on content moderation – and have urged executives to crack down harder on hate speech and misinformation, six employees said. They see Mr. Musk’s proposal to return to Twitter’s precocious and lax approach as a rebuke to their work.
But other employees have argued in internal posts seen by The Times that their colleagues have moved too far to the left of the political spectrum, making employees who support Mr. Musk’s plans too uncomfortable to speak out. In a worker-led survey of nearly 200 Twitter employees on Blind, an anonymous workplace review app, 44% said they were neutral about Mr Musk. Twenty-seven percent said they liked Mr. Musk, while 27% said they hated him.
Although Twitter executives and employees have reached agreement with Musk on changes to its algorithm, that work is in its early stages and could take years. It could test something that Mr. Musk is not particularly known for – patience.
A major concern for Twitter employees is whether they will take a financial hit from the acquisition of Mr. Musk. Many Twitter employees derive 50% or more of their total compensation from Twitter stock. Some employees said they were worried about missing out on the long-term value of their shares at Mr. Musk’s price of $54.20 a share.
At the employee meeting on Monday, executives tried to assure employees that they would not be harmed by the acquisition of Mr. Musk. Mr. Agrawal told the employees that their stock options would be converted to cash upon the conclusion of the agreement with Mr. Musk, which he said would take between three and six months. Employees would receive the same benefits for one year after the deal is finalized.
In a previous attempt to assuage financial concerns, Sean Edgett, Twitter’s general counsel, told employees that any potential buyer would most likely be required to keep employees’ equity “as is” or provide equivalent compensation, as a cash reward.
Mr. Edgett, who made his comments ahead of the announcement of the deal with Mr. Musk, stressed that employees should not take his advice as a preview of the deal being struck. “This is meant to provide some peace of mind and to explain how these things generally work, not because we believe there will be one outcome over another,” he wrote in messages to employees reviewed by The Times.
Twitter has been on a hiring spree, spending $630 million on stock-based compensation in 2021, a 33% increase from the previous year. Twitter predicted in a February earnings report that it would spend between $900 million and $925 million on stock-based compensation this year.
But Mr. Musk’s campaign has also begun to undermine Twitter’s attempts to recruit new employees, according to internal documents outlining the company’s recruiting efforts that have been seen by The Times. Potential hires have expressed skepticism about Mr. Musk’s plans to transform Twitter and change its content moderation, according to those documents.
Rookies also worried that shares included in their offer letters could quickly be devalued if Mr. Musk took Twitter down.
Twitter’s recruiting problem could swell further if current employees quit, as some have warned they would if Mr Musk takes over. Other employees worried about layoffs or the loss of work visas under Mr. Musk and asked Mr. Agrawal about those issues.
Hiring managers have been told to track the number of potential employees turning down job offers over fears for Mr. Musk, according to internal communications reviewed by The Times.
Employees also wondered: Could he also move Twitter’s headquarters to Texas, like he did with Tesla? Could it end the company’s flexibility on returning to the office, which has become a selling point for employees and recruits? After all, Mr. Musk fought with California officials to keep his auto plant open at the start of the pandemic.
Mr. Agrawal tried to calm his workforce. During Monday’s Q&A session, he urged employees to “leverage Twitter as we always have,” adding that “the way we run the business, the decisions we make, and the positive changes we drive – it will be up to us. , and under our control.
The stress aroused by the mention of Mr. Musk stands in stark contrast to the welcome he received from employees two years ago. Although some employees at the 2020 event said they were skeptical of Mr. Musk, many listened intently when he gave his advice for Twitter: The company should step up its moderation, he said, by doing more to weed out bots and scammers. real humans using the platform.
“By the way, do you want to use Twitter? Mr. Dorsey asked Mr. Musk.
The assembled Twitter employees laughed. Mr. Musk did not immediately respond.
ryan mac and Michael Isaac contributed report.