‘Let the good times roll!’ Elon Musk invites Tesla engineers to start rewriting Twitter code after firing top brass… as panicked former execs warn ‘the Wild West needs a sheriff’
- Elon Musk has taken a carving knife to Twitter, firing senior executives and bringing in his own engineers
- He has fired CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and top lawyer Vijaya Gadde hours after the deal closed
- Musk bought the site with the intention of undoing tight censorship algorithms
- He said he wants to revert it to a home for free speech, and plans to welcome back President Trump
- Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of global public policy, warned on Thursday that his plan may backfire
- ‘People eventually realize that the Wild West needs a sheriff,’ he said; Crowell resigned from Twitter in 2019
- Musk has asked engineers from Tesla to visit Twitter HQ to start adjusting the website’s code
- Twitter shares rose steadily this week in anticipation of the takeover; they will be suspended on Friday
- Musk plans to take the company private which will somewhat shield him from regulation and bureaucracy
There’s a new sheriff in town: Elon Musk tweets on Friday morning after taking over the company
Elon Musk shrugged off naysayers on Friday morning, excitedly tweeting ‘let the good times roll’ after officially taking over at Twitter.
Musk’s hostile takeover of the company concluded this week to the dismay of top brass and staffers at Twitter’s Silicon Valley HQ.
Within hours of taking the keys, he fired CEO Parag Agrawal and top counsel Vijaya Gadde – the woman responsible for banning President Trump after the January 6 riots – as well as firing CFO Ned Segal.
Photos show Musk chatting casually with Gadde and other employees at the HQ’s coffee bar, hours before the gauntlet came down.
He is said to have since asked Tesla engineers to visit HQ today to start rewriting the website’s code. Among his plans is to open source algorithms to increase transparency for users about how their data is used to suggest content to them, and to add an ‘edit’ button for all.
He also plans to allow banned users like President Trump back on the site.
Elon Musk speaks with employees including fired top counsel Vijaya Gadde (left) yesterday after taking over at Twitter. She was responsible for permanently banning President Trump from the site – a move that Musk says he will reverse
Musk at the Twitter coffee bar yesterday. He has vowed to fire 75 percent of the staff – to the dismay of many senior employees
Among those who have decried his plans as dangerous is former head of global public policy, Colin Crowell.
He left Twitter in 2019, long before Musk had designs on the site, but told The New York Times yesterday: ‘It’s a ‘back-to-the-future’ reversion to content rules circa 2010, but one that ignores the lived experience over the last decade.
‘People eventually realize that the Wild West needs a sheriff, both for ensuring the safety of citizens but also for enhancing the prospects for commerce.’
Mischievous Musk ignored the warnings on Friday, tweeting instead: ‘Let the good times roll.’
Twitter shares have risen steadily throughout the week in anticipation of the takeover, but they will be halted on Friday on the NYSE.
Musk plans to take the company private – a move that will somewhat shield him from the regulation and bureaucracy he faces with a publicly traded company.
In a securities filing on April 14, Musk said he did not have confidence in Twitter’s management and initially vowed to sack 75 percent of the workforce when he formally bought the tech giant.
Agrawal, who has repeatedly clashed with Musk over the number of users Twitter has, will walk away from his job with $42 million, after being chief executive officer for just under a year.
Musk posted a video of himself marching into Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters carrying a porcelain sink on Wednesday
Sean Edgett (left), the general counsel, and Ned Segal, chief financial officer for Twitter (right), have also reportedly been fired
Sarah Personette (left) tweeted on Wednesday that she was excited to work with Elon Musk – and was fired by him the next day
The platform’s co-founder Biz Stone quickly took to Twitter to thank them for their ‘collective contribution to Twitter’. He added: ‘Massive talents, all, and beautiful humans each!’
The fired five: Musk culls Twitter’s top executive staff members within hours of taking control of the company
Parag Agrawal, 38
- Chief Executive Officer since 2021
- 2021 compensation: $30.4 million
Agrawal took over from Jack Dorsey when he stood down as CEO in November 2021.
He has frequently clashed with Musk over Twitter’s user numbers, with Musk claiming the social media platform exaggerates how many users it has and downplays the number of spam accounts, fakes or bots.
Agrawal insisted that only around 5 percent of Twitter’s accounts were bots, which infuriated Musk. Musk responded to Agrawal’s lengthy explanation of their calculations with a ‘poop’ emoji.
The pair also argued in private.
They exchanged text messages that indicated a falling out, as revealed by documents disclosed in the legal battle between the billionaire and the social network.
On April 26, Dorsey, Musk and Agrawal convened a Google Hangout to discuss the takeover, and the conversation did not go well.
‘At least it became clear that you can’t work together. That was clarifying,’ Dorsey said.
Pictured: Parag Agrawal
Ned Segal, 48
- Chief Financial Officer since 2017
- 2021 compensation: $18.9 million
It was Segal who, in February 2021, announced that Twitter’s ban on Donald Trump was permanent.
Musk has said that decision was wrong, and he intends to reverse it.
‘The way our policies work, when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform, whether you’re a commentator, you’re a CFO, or you are a former or current public official,’ he told CNBC.
‘Remember, our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence, and if anybody does that, we have to remove them from the service and our policies don’t allow people to come back.’
Segal also likely irked Musk with his cautious approach to finance – in particular his announcement in November that he didn’t think investing in cryptocurrency was a good move for Twitter.
Musk is famously a fan of cryptocurrency, and champions Doegecoin.
Segal told The Wall Street Journal that investing Twitter’s corporate cash in crypto assets such as bitcoin ‘doesn’t make sense right now.’
Pictured: Ned Segal
Vijaya Gadde, 48
- Head of Legal Policy since 2011
- 2021 compensation: $17 million
Gadde, described as Twitter’s ‘moral compass’, was a passionate defender of Twitter’s role as a censor and arbitrator. She was long considered one of the people who would be fired first by Musk.
In October 2019 she was the architect of the idea to stop political advertising on the platform, and shortly before the election she played a key role in the decision to suspend The New York Post’s account when it reported on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Twitter claimed it violated the company policy against promoting hacked material; critics were angered by the heavy-handedness, and Twitter later apologized.
In January 2021, it was Gadde who rang then-CEO Jack Dorsey – on vacation in Hawaii – to inform him they were banning Donald Trump, for violating policies against inciting violence.
- General Counsel since 2017
- 2021 compensation: unclear
Edgett, a close ally of Gadde, emailed staff last week to say there were no plans for mass layoffs – a move which may have irked Musk, given the impending takeover.
‘Please note that there will continue to be a great deal of public rumor and speculation as we get closer to closing the deal,’ Edgett wrote.
‘First, we have no confirmation of the buyer’s plans after closing and recommend not following any rumors or leaked documents, but instead awaiting facts from us and the buyer directly.’
Edgett added that there were ‘targeted cost-cutting discussions and plans’ earlier in the year, but those discussions stopped when Twitter and Musk signed a deal. Since then, there have been no plans for company-wide layoffs, he said.
He also warned employees earlier this year to refrain from sharing their opinions on Musk’s bid on social media.
A Twitter whistleblower claimed that senior figures at the company told him to destroy documents.
Peiter Zatko, the former head of security, who was fired in January, was seized upon by Musk as an ally in his fight to get to the bottom of the mystery about Twitter’s user numbers.
Zatko’s complaint, in which he accused Twitter of lying about its security practices and violating a 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, was described by Agrawal and Edgett as false.
‘We have never made a material misrepresentation to a regulator, to our board, to all of you,’ Edgett said. ‘We are in full compliance with our F.T.C. consent decree.’
Pictured: Sean Edgett
Personette worked as Twitter’s chief customer officer until she was fired on October 26.
The former CCO Personette was handed $11.2 million as part of Musk’s house clearance.
Just one day before she was culled from the workforce, she wrote on Twitter: ‘Had a great discussion with Elon Musk last evening! Our continued commitment to brand safety for advertisers remains unchanged. Looking forward to the future!’
Pictured: Sarah Personette
His total compensation for 2021 was $30.4 million – largely in stock awards – after he was handed the top position following Jack Dorsey’s resignation last November.
Twitter’s former top lawyer Gadde, who earned $17 million in 2021, was reportedly in tears in April when Musk’s takeover first came to light. She has now been paid out $12.5 million for her troubles, Insider said.
Ex-CFO Segal – who was the man behind Mr Trump’s Twitter ban – also received the handsome sum of $25.4 million after being fired by Musk on Thursday evening.
And former CCO Personette was handed $11.2 million as part of Musk’s house clearance.
Despite Musk’s obvious delight with the astonishing deal which will go down in history, some experts have claimed that he has ‘overpaid’ for the platform.
Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, told the US Sun that the deal ‘will go down as one of the most overpaid tech acquisitions in the history of M&A deals on the Street in our opinion’.
Ives, who works for a LA-based investment firm, estimates the value of the company to be closer to $25billion rather than the $44billion.
‘With fair value that we would peg at roughly $25billion, Musk buying Twitter remains a major head-scratcher that ultimately he could not get out of once the Delaware Courts got involved,’ he said.
In the lead up to the South African’s buyout of the social media firm, the market positively reacted, with share prices visibly improving.
They went up by 7.23 per cent in the last five days and were up about 1 per cent at $53.94 in early trading yesterday.
The stock has surged nearly 65 per cent from a four-month low hit in July.
However, after Musk’s purchase, the the New York Stock Exchange’s website showed that Twitter shares would be suspended from trading.
The South African publicly criticized Twitter’s existing leadership team – in particular, attacking their policies on content moderation and censorship. He has also sparred with them over data on how many accounts were bots or spam.
This deal completion comes at the eleventh hour – just one day before Musk was going to be dragged back into court after being sued by Twitter for a back-and-forth he had over whether he was going to buy the company.
On Wednesday, the billionaire changed his Twitter profile to identify himself as the ‘Chief Twit’ and posted a video of himself walking into the company’s San Francisco headquarters carrying a porcelain sink.
This fueled rumors that Musk had closed the deal to buy Twitter in which he shared the clip with the caption: ‘Entering Twitter HQ, let that sink in’.
Agrawal, who took over from founder Jack Dorsey almost a year ago, has been at loggerheads with Musk over the number of genuine Twitter users, with Musk responding to a thread of Agrawal’s in May with a ‘poop’ emoji.
When Musk first made his takeover bid in April, he said he had not been given accurate data about spam accounts and bots.
Three months after launching his bid, Musk pulled out – insisting he had been misled about the size of the firm.
Twitter has for years said that bots make up less than 5 percent of its ‘monetizable daily active users’ (mDAU).
In a series of tweets in May, Agrawal acknowledged that ‘spam harms the experience for real people on Twitter,’ and added that, ‘as such, we are strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can, every single day.’
He insisted that Musk was exaggerating the scale of the problem. The South African-born Musk said as many as 25 percent of all Twitter accounts were not real.
Twitter sued Musk to complete the deal, accusing him of using bots as a pretext to exit the deal after getting buyer’s remorse, and the deal was set to go to trial later this month.
Musk himself took aim in April at Gadde for censoring stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop after it was reported she’d sobbed at news he’d bought the firm.
The tycoon wrote: ‘Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.’
Musk was referring to the suspension of the New York Post’s account for its exclusive about Hunter Biden’s laptop in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Initially dismissed as ‘misinformation’ by liberal outlets and social media networks, the laptop and its contents have since been verified by many of the same publications.
Gadde – who was described as Twitter’s ‘moral authority’ – broke down in tears on April 25, Politico reported, while briefing her team via video link on the future of the company under Musk.
The tech entrepreneur must now try and turn around the company’s finances.
On October 19, he said Twitter was an asset that had ‘languished’ for a long time.
‘Myself and the other investors are obviously overpaying for Twitter right now,’ he said.
‘The long term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value.’
He has floated the idea of turning Twitter into an ‘everything app’.
The idea originated in Asia with companies such as WeChat, which lets users not only send messages but also make payments, shop online or hail a taxi.
The all-in-one service appealed to users who had fewer choices in a region where Google, Facebook and others were blocked.
Musk has told investors he plans to build one that will sell premium subscriptions to reduce reliance on ads, allow content creators to make money and enable payments, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Musk plans to lower the guard rails that are common across all social media platforms has lead to fears of a deluge of hateful, harmful and potentially illegal content on Twitter. Already, it has struggled with identifying and removing child porn.
Members of Twitter’s trust and safety team, which includes content moderators, are expected to be among Musk’s deepest job cuts, employees fear.
‘Imagine a world where all those people are gone,’ one employee said. ‘It’s going to be a hellscape.’
Yet Musk warned advertisers earlier yesterday that Twitter cannot become a ‘hellscape’ under his ownership.
The Tesla CEO sent a tweet to advertisers, saying that while he wants the social media giant to become a ‘digital town square’ it ‘obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.’
‘Our platform must be warm and welcoming to all,’ he wrote, ‘where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature’.
He added that he ‘very much believes that advertising… can delight, entertain and inform you,’ saying that when done properly, advertising ‘can show you a service or product or medical treatment that you never knew existed, but is right for you.
‘For this to be true, it is essential to show Twitter users advertising that is as relevant as possible to their needs,’ the 51-year-old concluded in his letter, adding: ‘Low relevancy ads are spam, but highly relevant ads are actually content!’
Musk later agreed with a rapper on the platform, Zuby, who suggested that Twitter should ‘find a way to compensate’ monetize or partner ‘with its top creators, like every other social media app.’
‘Absolutely,’ the SpaceX founder wrote in response.
Musk also revealed his ‘motivation’ for buying the company in the open letter to advertisers, writing: ‘There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising. Most of it is wrong.’
He said he acquired the company ‘because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.’
But, he wrote, ‘much of traditional media has fueled and catered’ to either the far-Right or the far-Left ‘as they believe that is what brings in the money, but in doing so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost.
‘That is why I bought Twitter,’ Musk wrote. ‘I didn’t do it because it would be easy. I didn’t do it to make more money. I did it to try to help humanity, whom I love.
‘And I do so with humility, recognizing that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility.’
Meanwhile, Twitter staff remained on edge yesterday.
He was later pictured on Wednesday speaking with some employees, reportedly denying rumors that he is culling three quarters of the staff.
But that did little to assuage the more than 7,500 people employed by the social media giant.
As one Twitter employee explained in an anonymous essay for Business Insider, those who remain at the company are worried about the Tesla CEO’s volatility.
‘I don’t think my colleagues and I have a good model for how volatile he is — and I can see that rocking the boat, especially if he makes more comments that make people say, ‘What the hell?” the anonymous Twitter employee wrote.
‘There are also people here who are just unfazed by his volatility,’ they continued. ‘They’re not going to react in any way.’
The employee noted that their fellow workers’ views of their new boss will all be contingent on how many people he lays off.
‘People are asking, if heads are going to roll, whose good graces do you need to be in to stay?’ the employee wrote, adding: ‘Most people think layoffs are going to be pretty immediate.
‘I don’t think our site-reliability engineers need to be worried, though,’ they mused. ‘On the other hand, machine-learning engineers, or the people responsible for building experimental services are more worried.’
The Twitter employee then went on to say they would be most worried ‘if Musk decides to wipe out teams indiscriminately, because then it’s just a roll of the dice.’
In the meantime, several Twitter employees took to their social media platform to share how they are sticking together.
Stephanie Guevara, a senior iOS engineer for the platform, though, was more blunt — asking Musk directly: ‘Was it fun to look at the faces of the people you said you’d be laying off?’
And Parker Lyons expressed his nervousness about the new boss’ visit with a meme of a man on top of two tires lifting a sofa, captioned: ‘When Elon walks by your desk to see what you’re working on.’
Twitter management had already planned to cut staff after spending a whopping $1.5 billion last year on personnel, and had wanted to reduce that amount by some $800 million.
It also spent hundreds of millions of dollars in contracting firms that pay people to review reports of hate speech, child pornography and other rule-breaking content, corporate documents obtained by the Washington Post last week revealed.
Management also planned to make major cuts to its infrastructure, getting rid of data centers that keep the site functioning for more than 200 million users a day.
But Musk expanded on the idea of layoffs, telling employees in June he didn’t see a reason why low-performing workers should remain on the payroll.
He has also made clear he plans to loosen content moderation standards — which he claims are infringing on free speech — and restore Mr Trump’s account as soon as he takes ownership of the company.
Since then, though, the Tesla CEO has vowed to take a far lighter touch on suspending users who break Twitter’s rules on hate speech, having declared himself a strong believer in free speech.
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