The Twitter soap opera goes on

Although I am the most minimal of users on the platform and would be unaffected if the company went under, I continue to be fascinated by the way Twitter continues to lurch from one crisis to another under the erratic leadership of its new owner Elon Musk, as he tries desperately to recover from what seems like a disastrous investment.

He seems to think that people work best under edicts and threats. In his latest move, he told employees that he only wanted people who were “extremely hardcore” and be “willing to work long hours at high intensity” to build what he calls Twitter 2.0. That could be seen as a hyperbolic motivating speech, like football coaches asking players to give 110%, except that Musk followed up by giving them an ultimatum that they had to sign such a pledge by Thursday or they would be fired. That is just insulting.

Such a management style is the opposite tack that leaders should take in a time of uncertainty, noted Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy of workplace management at Gallup. Poor leadership provides an opportunity for employees to quit, especially when the job market remains tight, as it currently is.

“Saying ‘work harder,’ especially coming out of a pandemic, is tone deaf and it’s hard to undo that damage to your culture,” Wigert said. 

Musk’s implication that Twitter workers aren’t doing their jobs does not “reflect a strong employer brand and culture,” he added. “They don’t reflect that inspiring organization you want to work for.”

Unsurprisingly, Musk’s ultimatum resulted in an exodus of workers.

Twitter continued to bleed engineers and other workers, after new owner Elon Musk gave them an ultimatum: Either pledge to “hardcore” work or resign with severance pay by 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. Many have opted for the latter.

The wave of resignations is sparking concern about Twitter’s ability to continue to operate with a skeleton crew, especially as some “critical” teams have either completely resigned or have only a few people remaining, The Verge reported.

Amid the reports of layoffs, Twitter announced via email that it would close “our office buildings” and disable employee badges until Monday, the New York Times reported.

Musk then issued another edict that asked all software coders to report to him in person at Twitter HQ in San Francisco his weekend.

Elon Musk emailed Twitter staff on Friday asking that any employees who write software code report to the 10th floor of the office in San Francisco in the early afternoon, according to multiple news reports.

The billionaire said in a follow-up email, “If possible, I would appreciate it if you could fly to SF to be present in person,” adding he would be at the company’s headquarters until midnight and would return Saturday morning, Reuters reported. The engineers should report at 2pm on Friday.

Musk said he would try to speak with remote employees by video, and that only people who could not physically get to the company’s headquarters or had a family emergency would be excused.

In his first email to Twitter employees this month, Musk said: “We are also changing Twitter policy such that remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have a specific exception.

“Managers will send the exceptions lists to me for review and approval.”

Musk’s emails came a day after reports indicated between 1,000 and 1,200 Twitter employees decided to quit the beleaguered social media company following a Thursday deadline from Musk that staffers sign up for “long hours at high intensity”, or leave.

If this is the way that Musk runs all his businesses, I am guessing that the people at Tesla and SpaceX are thrilled that all his attention and energy is being spent to Twitter so that they can do their work in peace.


  1. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    I’ve worked as a coder and writer in tech, and I cannot imagine what Musk thinks he is doing with this latest gimmick, calling all the programmers to his office. There would have originally been a couple hundred of them, probably now whittled down to less than a hundred, but still, what can he possibly think he can accomplish by seeing them one-on-one? He is going to review their work based on a few “screen shots” — that’s what he asked for, not links to source code or documentation, just screen shots — and a personal interview? He is going to do this for at least dozens of people in the course of a few hours? What are they supposed to do, sit around in a queue outside his office for hours, kicking their heels (more likely, reviewing job offers and updating their LinkedIn profiles)? And when each one is called in and is face to face with Elon, what can he possibly say after looking at their “screen shots” for a minute or so? What kind of reasonable judgement can he make of a programmer’s skills, knowledge, and ability to perform as part of a team, on such a trivial basis?

    I speculate that he imagines creating one or more “tiger teams” of coders he can focus on new features for Twitter, and that somehow his brilliant perceptions will choose just the right people for this. But he knows nothing about the technical legacy they’re working from. He’s ignoring and discarding all the institutional memory of existing teams, the why’s of the designs, and the knowledge of the tooling, testing, and support code that’s been built up.

    It’s the worst kind of micro-managing by an egomaniac who literally thinks he knows it all.

  2. JM says

    I think a good part of Musk’s problem is that he thinks Twitter is simpler then building a rocket. It is a much less technical and exacting problem but it’s also a very different problem. Large internet systems like Twitter are like big gardens. You have lots of bits that require entirely different programming skills and many things that are interconnected and things need regular maintenance. You don’t really need that many great programmers compared to the number of technical experts you need for a rocket. You do need a lot of average programmers to the regular maintenance, watch for people trying to cheat the system and port features to new platforms and languages.

  3. Dunc says

    He also does not seem to appreciate that other countries have very different employment laws, and that what he’s been doing recently is flat out illegal in many places.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Among all the other comedy, requiring people to come into the office under threat of firing, then almost immediately closing all the offices and revoking people’s access cards, is just hilarious.

  5. KG says

    The conspiracy theory is that he bought Twitter in order to close it down -- notice that he carried a sink into its headquarters, obviously symbolising that he intended to sink the company! Supposedly, he is doing this at the behest of his creditors, notably the Saudi royal family, who have been offended by tweets about “Prince Bone-saw”. But I don’t credit this: he, and they, could easily fix the algorithms so that Musk and his pals could insult and misinform as much as they liked, but anyone who offended them could be banished. Just an ego of Trumpian dimensions colliding with a business he has no idea how to run.

  6. Some Old Programmer says

    In the department of piling on, the Boston Globe today reported on a lawsuit filed on behalf of a disabled Twitter employee who was fired because they could not come in to the office. They were hired with the explicit assurance that they’d always be able to work remotely.

    I’m running out of popcorn…

  7. ardipithecus says

    Meanwhile, all over the world, disparate blocs of humanity are coming together to share in the most gloriously magnificent mass schadenfreude ever.

    It would be different if it were a time of high unemployment, but as it is now, the discarded workers should have no difficulty finding new positions.

  8. John Morales says

    BTW: I don’t fail to notice the buttons on this page immediately below the post.

    Share this:
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  9. georgeyong says

    It’s likely a test to see who he can easily bully.
    Either that he is meeting them in person to infect them with his version of alien parasites like in Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.

  10. Tethys says

    Elon may have purchased Twitter due to ego and some neoliberal dude bro ideas about free speech. That doesn’t explain why he has proceeded to destroy it in record time. I imagine that his ego won’t allow him to understand that he has been played for a fool by people who dislike him, though they do appreciate fascist theocracy.

    You have to question why the people who extended him billions in credit to buy twitter might be doing so? Perhaps they are in a position to be able to afford losing billions in hopes he immediately destroys it due to gross incompetence. Not every multi-billionaire is an egotistical bullshitter, prone to grandstanding and impulse control issues. Having Elon Musk owe them would be the worst case scenario, so it’s a low risk investment in terms of exerting influence over public discourse worldwide.

    No conspiracy is necessary.

  11. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    I like the speculative theory (and every theory about the Musk/Twitter fiasco is speculation) that he had a vision of expanding Twitter to have extra features like the Chinese app Hence “Twitter 2.0” and everyone working overtime to achieve it. However, everything he has done so far in that direction is stupid and destructive. If you want to add features, the key people to bring in and infect with your vision are the Director-level and middle managers. They are the ones who already know intimately the strengths of the tech staff, which ones bright and energetic and which are drones or bozos. You pick among the top managers the ones you can work with, and give them the high-level goals and the authority to cherry-pick the best people, and get the hell out of their way. This idea of the CEO calling in front-line tech people to interview, cold, is just nuts.

  12. Silentbob says

    @ 12 John Morales

    BTW: I don’t fail to notice the buttons on this page immediately below the post.

    “I don’t fail to notice that the people who think it’s bad a right wing autocrat is taking over a valuable communications medium think it’s a valuable communications medium.”
    Wow. Thanks for that insight Morales. We thought people were upset because they didn’t care about Twitter and had no intention of ever using it.

  13. John Morales says

    Silentbob, Twitter is a message repository and distribution system.

    The functionality is very replicable, the user-base is what makes it a thing.

    Thanks for that insight Morales.

    You’re welcome.

  14. lanir says

    Musk has made it clear he’s the kind of boss who needs to see you work. I’ve dealt with people like that before. You can do a top tier job on a task, really pull out all the stops and make an exceptional piece of work. And some bozo who has nothing to offer but a snappy presentation gets all the praise while you may even need someone to step in and put in a good word just to keep your work from being scrapped. Your job ends up being about 10% doing the actual work, 25% tickling the boss’s fancy, and 65% jobhunting to GTFO ASAP.

    The in-person meeting BS is just more repetition. From the first wave of firings he’s been doing nothing but make it harder for anyone to work there. Now he wants miracles from whoever is left and he’s made an artificial emergency so that some of his most highly skilled staff have to cancel their weekend plans. All so they can have the honor of catering to his whims and courting his favor in person. Maybe if they’re lucky there will be ring kissing involved.

    I also doubt Musk is paying for airfare. When you’re that much of a self-centered jackass you fire people for not spending hundreds of dollars on a next day flight and spend multiple times their salary on lawyers so you can drag out paying them anything. A whole lot of these rich people seem to get their kicks from screwing other people out of money they’re owed. It’s so common I’m now suspicious of the (smarter) ones that aren’t obviously doing that.

  15. flex says

    On a little more serious note, my wife and I were discussing the timeline for Musk’s Twitter adventure.

    If we remember correctly, it went like this:

    1. Musk publicly declared that in the name of free-speech that he would front an offer to purchase Twitter.
    2. Musk had several meetings to review the internal workings of Twitter after a preliminary deal was made.
    3. Musk decided that he really didn’t want to purchase Twitter.
    4. Musk was sued by Twitter to force him to purchase.
    5. Musk lost the suit, and was told by the courts that his public announcements and private meetings created an obligation for him to purchase Twitter.
    6. Musk is forced to purchase Twitter.
    7. Musk is currently in the process of destroying Twitter in the most painful way to the company as possible. He’s not looking to sell it off. He doesn’t appear to be interested in growth. He’s using the at-will labor laws of the US to fire people without warning. He’s creating job requirements, legal in the US, which encourage people to quit. He will probably run afoul of a few laws in isolated cases, and be sued over them, but he can afford good lawyers. He can’t just fire everyone in one go without the other stakeholders in Twitter stopping him quickly with an injunction. But he can be the irresponsible CEO who drives the company into the ground. He can cause enough damage to the company that by the time the board ejects him as CEO (which I believe they could do with another court order), it will never recover.

    This really looks to me like the actions of an asshole who was forced to do something he didn’t want to do, and has just decided to destroy it. Musk is the Oliver Hardy to the Stan Laurel Twitter board saying, “Now look what you made me do.”

  16. sonofrojblake says

    I think flex has nailed it. It doesn’t require Musk to be an idiot, merely pissed off and rich.

  17. Ichthyic says

    “He can cause enough damage to the company that by the time the board ejects him as CEO”

    what board? Elon owns Twitter outright and has made it a privately owned company. It has been delisted as of Nov 8.

    Elon literally can do whatever he wants with it, for good or ill. It already is no longer the same company it was.
    Twitter is dead. Long live Twitter?

  18. flex says

    @23 Ichthyic,

    Even a privately owned company usually has a board of directors if it’s large enough. I work for one. Sometimes the board consists of the major stakeholders, sometimes they are professional managers hired by the stakeholders.

    However, a little investigation suggests that you are correct, that Musk has not only dissolved the board but is using his personal lawyer and a old colleague from PayPal as advisors. If Musk does intend to keep Twitter alive, eventually he will probably select a board of operation for it. Oddly enough, it appears Musk fired a number of Twitter’s board for cause, meaning their golden-parachutes were forfeit. I’m certain there are lawsuits being prepared by the former board members for that action already. Having been though one unlawful-termination lawsuit (as an observer), I’d say that it may be up to a year before we hear about them.

    That being said, there are still other stakeholders in Twitter who have an interest in the performance of the company. Even the employees themselves have certain rights. A very rapid shutdown would provide reasons for a very expensive lawsuit against Musk, which might succeed. It would be almost inevitable that a lawsuit of that nature would request an injunction against Musk against further changes in the operations of Twitter, and a judge might even grant that request. Remember, in the US legal system, anyone can sue anyone for any reason. To protect himself against legal action, he needs to at least demonstrate an attempt at reforming Twitters business to make it profitable. Musk has to be able to argue that his changes are a business necessity in order to argue against any injunctions. Admitting that he’s shutting Twitter down would make it very easy for a judge to tell him he can’t.

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