In January 2020, thousands of Twitter employees gathered in Houston for a corporate summit called #OneTeam. During the event, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, revealed at the time that he had invited a surprise guest. Then with a wave and a smile, Elon Musk appeared on giant screens across the stage. The audience cheered, clapped and pumped fists. “We love you,” shouted one employee.
Inside Twitter today, surprising messages land about Mr. Musk differently. Employees said they had largely stopped celebrating the richest man in the world since he this month declared his intention to buy Twitter, scrap its content moderation policies and turn the listed company into a private company. On Monday, Twitter announced that it had accepted Mr. Musk’s offer to buy the company for about $ 44 billion.
While the takeover battle unfolded over the past two weeks, Twitter employees said they were frustrated that they had not heard a bit from management about what it meant to them, even when Twitter closed in on a deal with Mr. Musk Monday morning. They asked their CEO, Parag Agrawal. They asked Mr Musk himself in questions posted on Twitter. Some even went to Charles Schwab, the financial firm that manages their stock options, to find out what impact a sale of the company would have on them.
But they did not get very many responses until Mr Musk’s bid was successful, said 11 Twitter employees who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak in public, even when it became clear that they could quickly find on reporting to Mr Musk.
Monday afternoon, Mr. Agrawal and Twitter chairman Bret Taylor finally met with staff to discuss the deal. Compensation would largely remain the same under Mr. Musk, said Mr. Agrawal, but he did not give the same assurances about Twitter’s policies and culture.
“We are constantly developing our policies,” Mr Agrawal said in response to a staff question as to whether former President Donald J. Trump would be allowed back on the platform. “Once the deal is finalized, we do not know which direction this company will go in.”
The silence that hovered over the negotiations is routine in takeover battles, Mr Taylor told staff. As the board conferences with bankers, lawyers and expensive public relations firms, employees are often kept in the dark. But for employees of Twitter, a company that has declared itself as the marketplace of the world, it was particularly bitter to find out what was happening to their business, primarily through Twitter, the service they built.
Read more about Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter
After years of leadership strife, demands for change from activist investors and frontier-testing tweets from Mr. Trump, Twitter’s more than 7,000 employees are used to unrest. But some of them say the takeover of the mercury billionaire has hit them in ways that other corporate crises have not.
Employees said they were concerned that Mr Musk would regret the years of work they had put into cleaning up the toxic corners of the platform, increasing their stock compensation in the process of taking the company private and disrupting Twitter’s culture with his unpredictability. leadership style and abrupt. proclamations.
But Mr Musk also has fans among Twitter’s privates, and some staff have welcomed his bid. In an internal Slack message seen by The New York Times asking if employees were enthusiastic about Mr. Musk, answered about 10 people with a “Yes” emoji. A Twitter spokesman 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, professor of accounting and corporate governance at Stanford University. “The joker card is what if it becomes a very different company than they thought they worked for? It’s an uncomfortable working relationship,” he said.
Sir. Musk has made some of its intentions clear in regulatory applications, tweets and public appearances: The company must scrap 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 boost tweets in users’ news feeds. And it has to become a private company.
Twitter has been expanding its content moderation policies since 2008, when its 25th employee was hired specifically to combat abuse on its platform. The teams that oversee moderation and safety have now grown to hundreds of employees.
Many Twitter employees feel personally invested in the company’s efforts to encourage healthy conversation – even if they are not directly working on content moderation – and have pressured executives to crack down further on hate speech and misinformation, six employees said. They see Mr Musk’s proposal to return to Twitter’s early, lax approach as a rebuke to their work.
But other staffers have argued in internal messages that The Times has seen their staffs move too far to the left of the political spectrum, making staff members who support Mr Musk’s plans too uncomfortable to speak out. In a worker-driven survey of nearly 200 Twitter employees on Blind, an anonymous workplace review app, 44 percent said they were neutral toward Mr. Musk. Twenty-seven percent said they loved Mr. Musk, while 27 percent said they hated him.
Although executives and employees on Twitter have agreed with Mr. Musk about changes in its algorithm, it is work in the earliest stages and can take years to complete. It could test something, Mr. Musk is not very well known for – patience.
One of the biggest concerns among Twitter workers is whether they will get a financial hit from Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Many Twitter employees earn 50 percent or more of their total compensation from Twitter shares. Some employees said they feared missing out on the long-term value of their stock to Mr. Musk’s price of 54.20 USD per. shares.
At the meeting with employees on Monday, managers tried to reassure employees that they would not be degraded by Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Mr. Agrawal told employees that their stock options would convert to cash once the deal with Mr. Musk closes, which he estimated would take between three and six months. Employees would receive their same benefit packages for a year after the agreement was terminated and there were no immediate plans for layoffs, he added.
In an earlier attempt to allay financial concerns, Sean Edgett, Twitter’s attorney general, told employees that any potential buyer would most likely be asked to keep employee equity “as is” or provide equivalent compensation, as a cash reward.
Mr. Edgett, who made his comments before the agreement with Mr. Musk was announced, stressing that employees should not see his guidance as insight into the deal. “This is meant to give some peace of mind and explain how these things typically work, not because we think there will be a result relative to another,” he wrote in messages to employees who have been notified by The Times.
Twitter has been on the hiring train, spending $ 630 million on stock-based compensation in 2021, a 33 percent increase from the year before. 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 undercut Twitter’s attempts to recruit new employees, according to internal documents outlining the company’s hiring efforts, which were seen by The Times. Potential hires have expressed skepticism about Mr. Musk’s plans to transform Twitter and upgrade its content moderation, these documents state.
Recruits have also worried that the shares in their offer letters could be quickly devalued if Mr Musk took Twitter privately.
Twitter’s recruitment problem could become even greater if current employees stop, as some have warned they would do if Mr Musk took over. Other employees worried about layoffs or loss of work visas under Mr. Musk and raised questions about these issues with Mr. Agrawal.
Managers in charge of hiring have been asked to keep track of how many potential employees are rejecting job offers due to fears of Mr. Musk, according to internal communications reviewed by The Times.
Employees have also wondered: Could he also move Twitter’s headquarters to Texas, as he did with Tesla? Could he stop the company’s flexibility in returning to the office, which has become a selling point for employees and recruits? Mr. After all, Musk struggled with California officials to keep his car factory open early in the pandemic.
Mr. Agrawal tried to reassure his workforce. In Monday’s question-and-answer session, he urged employees to “run Twitter, as we have always done,” adding that “how we run the business, the decisions we make, and the positive changes we drive – it will be up to us and under our control. ”
Stressed by the mention of mr. Musk is a stark contrast to the welcome he enjoyed from employees two years ago. Although some employees at the event in 2020 said they were skeptical of Mr Musk, 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 weed out bots and scammers from the actual people using the platform.
“By the way, do you want to run Twitter?” Mr. Dorsey asked Mr. Musk.
The assembled Twitter employees laughed. Mr. Musk did not respond immediately.
Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac contributed with reporting.