Elon Musk hints at Twitter layoffs to make the company ‘healthy’

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Musk said he wants Twitter to reach 1bn users and that the platform would benefit from becoming more like WeChat and TikTok.

In his first meeting with the company’s employees since he announced his intent to acquire Twitter for $44bn, Elon Musk faced a variety of questions about his plans for the business.

The SpaceX CEO hinted at the potential for layoffs on a video call with Twitter’s employees yesterday (16 June), as the company “does need to get healthy”.

Future Human

According to leaked transcripts of the call, Musk said there would have to be “some rationalisation” of Twitter’s headcount and expenses in order to have revenue exceed costs. “Otherwise, Twitter is simply not viable or can’t grow,” he added.

“Anyone who’s obviously a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about. I do not take actions which are disruptive to the health of the company.”

More like WeChat and TikTok

Musk, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist”, doubled down on the importance of free speech on Twitter. He said that users should be allowed to “say what they want, post what they want, within the confines of the law”.

But he added that there needs to be a balance between allowing free speech and making people comfortable on the platform, “or they simply won’t use it”.

Outlining his ambition to reach at least 1bn users on Twitter, Musk drew comparisons to other platforms such as WeChat, the super app in China that combines features such as payments, ride-hailing and games with messaging and social media.

“You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so useful and so helpful to your daily life,” Musk said. “I think if we could achieve that, or even close to that with Twitter, it would be an immense success.”

Musk also praised TikTok’s algorithm for doing “a great job of making sure you’re not bored”, even if he occasionally sees content he does not like. He said Twitter could be made to be “as engaging as possible” while being better for informing people about “serious issues”.

Remote working for the ‘exceptional’

With the onset of the pandemic, Twitter was one of the first big tech companies to embrace long-term remote working. While the company’s offices reopened earlier this year, CEO Parag Agrawal said staff could work from wherever they felt “most productive and creative”.

During the call with Musk, Twitter chief marketing officer Leslie Berland said most of Twitter’s staff now work in a hybrid model, with around 1,500 working remotely full-time.

But Musk has different views on remote working. Earlier this month, he ordered Tesla staff to return to the office full-time and said remote working was no longer possible, according to emails that were leaked on social media.

In the meeting with Twitter’s staff, Musk noted that his bias is “very much toward in-person work”. But he made reference to Tesla, saying cars cannot be made remotely but there are certain roles that can be done from home, such as software or design.

“I think that’s still a case where you want to aspire to do things in person, but if somebody is exceptional at their job, then it’s possible for them to be effective, even working remotely,” Musk said.

After the meeting, CNBC reported that employees expressed concerns that many of their worries around remote working, layoffs and a reduced focus on content moderation were confirmed in the call, according to an unnamed source.

SpaceX staff raise concerns

Elsewhere, it has been reported that Musk’s recent behaviour has caused concerns among staff in his other companies. An open letter by SpaceX staff seen by The Verge said Musk’s actions and recent sexual harassment allegations are negatively impacting the company’s reputation.

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the letter said. “It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”

Despite Musk’s statements on the importance of free speech, SpaceX has reportedly fired a number of staff who helped write and distribute the letter, according to the New York Times citing three employees familiar with the matter. It is unclear how many employees were fired.

The New York Times reported that SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent an email saying the company had “terminated a number of employees involved” and that the letter had made other employees “feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied”.

Elon Musk at a Tesla event in 2019. Image: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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