Twitter workers search for answers as Musk deal takes shape

In January 2020, thousands of Twitter employees gathered in Houston for a company summit called #OneTeam. At the event, Jack Dorsey, the then CEO of Twitter, 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, clapped and clenched fists. “We love you,” an employee shouted.

Today on Twitter, surprising announcements about Mr. Musk different inside. Workers said they have largely stopped celebrating the world’s richest man since he announced his intentions to buy Twitter earlier this month, scrap its content moderation policy and turn the publicly traded company into a private company.

Twitter employees also said they were frustrated that they didn’t hear much from their management about what was going on with the takeover battle and what it meant to them, even as Twitter struck a deal with Mr. Musk Monday morning. They asked their chief executive, Parag Agrawal. They asked Elon Musk himself in questions sent on Twitter. Some even went to Charles Schwab, the financial company that manages their stock options, for clarity about the impact a sale of the company would have on them.

But they didn’t get many replies, said 11 Twitter employees who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, even as it became clear they would soon report to Mr. Musk. On Sunday, Twitter’s board met to discuss Mr Musk’s offer and would seriously consider it. Some employees expressed frustration at the continued silence on Twitter Monday morning, while others expressed condolences in private chats.

This kind of silence is routine in takeover battles. Because the board of directors consults with bankers, lawyers and expensive PR agencies, employees often feel in the dark. But for employees of Twitter, a company that billed itself as the world’s city square, it was particularly bitter to find out what’s happening to their company, primarily through Twitter, the service they’ve built.

After years of leadership squabbles, change requests from activist investors and the groundbreaking tweets of former President Donald J. Trump, Twitter’s more than 7,000 employees are used to unrest. But some of them say the mercurial billionaire’s takeover bid is hitting them in a way that other corporate crises haven’t.

Employees said they were concerned that Mr. Musk would undo the years of work they’ve put into cleaning up the platform’s toxic corners, increase their stock compensation in the process of taking the company private, and the Twitter culture with his unpredictable management style and abrupt announcements.

But Mr. Musk also has fans under Twitter and some employees have welcomed his offer. In an internal Slack post from The New York Times asking 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 is in the employees who build and manage the service, said David Larcker, a professor of accounting and corporate governance at Stanford University. “The wildcard is: what if it becomes a completely different company than what they thought they were working for? It’s an awkward working relationship,” he says.

Mr. Musk has made clear some of his intentions in registrations, tweets and public appearances: The company is required to remove almost all of its moderation policies, which ban content such as violent threats, harassment and spam. It should provide more transparency about the algorithm it uses to drive tweets in users’ news feeds. And it should be a private company.

Twitter has expanded its content moderation policy since 2008, when the 25th employee was hired specifically to curb abuse on its platform. The teams overseeing moderation and security have grown to hundreds of employees.

Many Twitter employees feel personally involved in the company’s efforts to encourage healthy conversation — even if they don’t work directly on moderating the content — and have pressured executives to continue to spread hate speech and misinformation. to tackle, according to six employees. They see Mr Musk’s proposal to return to Twitter’s early, lax approach as a rebuke to their work.

But other employees have argued in internal Times reports that their colleagues have shifted too far to the left of the political spectrum, making employees who support Mr Musk’s plans too uneasy to say anything. In an employee survey of nearly 200 Twitter employees on Blind, an anonymous workplace assessment app, 44 percent said they were neutral about Mr. Musk. Twenty-seven percent said they loved Mr. Musk, while 27 percent said they hated him.

While Twitter executives and employees have agreed with Mr. Musk about changes to the algorithm, that work is in its early stages and could take years to complete. That could test something Mr. Musk isn’t exactly known for: patience.

One of the biggest concerns among Twitter employees is whether they will take a financial hit from Mr. Musk’s plans. Many Twitter employees get 50 percent or more of their total compensation from Twitter stock. If Mr. Musk manages to buy Twitter at its proposed price of $54.20 a share, employees said they feared missing out on the long-term value of their shares.

In an effort to allay financial concerns, Twitter general counsel Sean Edgett told employees that any potential buyer would likely be required to keep equity “as is” or offer an equivalent consideration, such as a cash prize. .

Mr Edgett emphasized that employees should not see his guidance as insight into closing deals. “This is intended to provide peace of mind and explain how these things typically work, not because we believe there will be one outcome over another,” wrote Mr Edgett in posts to employees reviewed by The Times.

What will happen to Elon Musk’s bid on Twitter?

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The offer. Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, made an unsolicited offer of more than $40 billion for the social media company. Mr. Musk said he wanted to turn Twitter into a private business and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely about the service.

Twitter is busily hiring and spent $630 million on share-based compensation in 2021, up 33 percent from the prior year. Twitter predicted in a February earnings report that it would spend between $900 million and $925 million in stock-based compensation this year.

But Mr. Musk’s campaign has also begun to undermine Twitter’s efforts to recruit new employees, according to internal documents detailing the company’s recruiting efforts, which were reviewed by The Times. Potential contributors have expressed skepticism about Mr. Musk’s plans to transform Twitter and overturn content moderation, those documents said.

Recruits were also concerned that the shares in their offer letters could quickly be devalued if Mr. Musk managed to take Twitter private.

Twitter’s recruiting problem could be compounded if its current employees quit, as some have warned they would if Mr. Musk takes over. Other employees were concerned about layoffs or loss of work visas under Mr. Musk and raised questions about these issues with Mr. Agrawal.

Managers responsible for hiring have been asked to track how many potential employees are turning down jobs because of fears of Mr. Musk, according to internal communications reviewed by The Times.

Employees also wondered: Could he also move Twitter’s headquarters to Texas, as he did with Tesla? Can he end the company’s flexibility to return to the office, which has become a selling point for employees and recruits? After all, Mr. Musk battled officials in California to keep his auto plant open early in the pandemic.

Mr Agrawal has tried to calm his staff. In a question-and-answer session with employees the day Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter, Mr Agrawal declined to share details about how the company would respond to Musk, but urged employees to stay focused on the things they do. according to the employees who attended the meeting, just like their daily work.

Mr Agrawal has not addressed the entire company since then, two employees said. The company will announce its first quarter results on Thursday.

The stress of naming Mr. Musk is in stark contrast to the welcome he received from his employees two years ago. While some employees said they were skeptical of Mr. Musk at the 2020 event, many of them listened intently as he gave his advice to Twitter: The company should step up its moderation, he said, by doing more to protect bots and scammers. of the actual people using the platform.

“By the way, do you want to use Twitter?” mr. Dorsey asked Mr. musk.

The assembled Twitter employees laughed. Mr. Musk didn’t answer right away.

Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac reported.

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