July 15, 2024

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Twitter employees search for answers as the Musk takeover becomes a reality

In January 2020, thousands of Twitter employees gathered in Houston for a corporate summit called the #OneTeam. During the event, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter at the time, revealed that he invited a surprise guest. Then, with a wave and a smile, Elon Musk appeared on giant screens above the stage. The crowd cheered, applauded, and pumped their fists. “We love you,” shouted one of the employees.

Inside Twitter today, the surprise announcements about Mr. Musk Land are different. Employees said they have largely stopped celebrating the world’s richest man since he announced his intention this month to buy Twitter, scrap content editing policies and turn the publicly traded company into a private company. on Monday, Twitter has announced that it has accepted Mr. Musk’s offer to buy the company for about $44 billion.

As the takeover battle has raged over the past two weeks, Twitter employees said they are frustrated that they have heard so little from management about what it means for them, even as Twitter I closed a deal with Mr. Musk On Monday morning. They asked their CEO, Parag Agrawal. They asked Mr. Musk himself in questions posted on Twitter. Some have even gone to Charles Schwab, the financial company that manages their stock options, to explain the effect of selling the company on them.

He said 11 Twitter employees who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly, but did not get many answers before the success of Mr. Musk’s show.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Agrawal and Twitter Chairman Brett Taylor finally met with the staff to discuss the deal. Mr Agrawal said compensation would remain largely the same under Mr Musk, but he did not make the same assurances about Twitter’s policies and culture.

“We are constantly developing our policies,” Mr. Agrawal said in response to a staff member’s question about whether former President Donald J. Trump would be allowed to return to the podium. “Once the deal is completed, we don’t know which direction this company will take.”

Mr. Taylor told staff that silence in the negotiations was routine in takeover battles. Because the board of directors hands out expensive bankers, lawyers, and PR firms, employees are often kept in the dark. But for employees at Twitter, the company that billed itself as the city’s square in the world, finding out what’s happening to their company primarily through Twitter, the service they created, has been especially bittersweet.

After years of leadership wrangling, demands for change from activist investors and Mr Trump’s border-testing tweets, more than 7,000 Twitter employees are used to the turmoil. But some say the mercurial billionaire’s takeover of the company has hit them in ways that other corporate crises haven’t.

Employees said they were concerned that Mr. Musk might spoil years of work they put in cleaning up toxic corners of the platform, flip their stock compensation in the process of making the company private and disrupt Twitter’s culture with his unexpected managerial style and abrupt statements.

But Mr. Musk also has fans among the ranks and profiles on Twitter, and some employees have welcomed his offer. In an internal Slack letter seen by The New York Times asking if employees were enthusiastic about Musk, about 10 people responded with an emoji “yes.” A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

If Twitter is worth buying, most of its value lies in the employees who build and run the service, said David Larker, professor of accounting and corporate governance at Stanford University. “The wild card is, what if it becomes a completely different company than what they thought they were working for? It’s an uncomfortable working relationship,” he said.

Mr. Musk made some of his intentions clear in regulatory filings, tweets and public appearances: The company should repeal nearly all moderation policies, which ban content such as violent threats, harassment and spam. It should provide more transparency about the algorithm you use to boost Tweets in users’ news feeds. It must become a private company.

Twitter has been expanding its content moderation policies since 2008, when the 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 they have been personally invested in the company’s efforts to encourage healthy conversation — even if they don’t directly edit content — and have pressured executives to crack down on hate speech and disinformation, six employees said. They see Mr. Musk’s proposal to return to Twitter’s early, lax approach as a rebuke to their work.

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But other employees argued in internal messages seen by The Times that their co-workers had shifted too far to the left side of the political spectrum, making employees who support Mr. Musk’s plans uncomfortable to speak up. In a staff-run survey of nearly 200 Twitter employees on Blind, an anonymous workplace review app, 44 percent said they were neutral toward Mr. Musk. 27 percent said they like Mr. Musk, while 27 percent said they hate him.

Although Twitter executives and employees have agreed with Mr Musk about the changes to his algorithm, this work is in its infancy and could take years to complete. That could test something that Mr. Musk is not known for – patience.

One of the biggest concerns among Twitter workers is whether they will take a financial hit from Mr. Musk’s takeover. Many Twitter employees receive 50 percent or more of their total compensation from Twitter stock. Some employees said they fear losing the long-term value of their shares at Mr. Musk’s price of $54.20 per share.

In a meeting with employees on Monday, executives tried to reassure employees that they would not be shorted by Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Mr. Agrawal told employees that their stock options would turn into cash when the deal with Mr. Musk closed, which he estimated would take between three and six months. He added that employees will receive the same benefit packages for a year after the deal is finalized and there are no immediate plans to lay off workers.

In an earlier attempt to allay financial concerns, Twitter general counsel Shaun Edgett told employees that any potential buyer would likely be required to keep employee equity “as is” or provide equivalent compensation, such as a cash bonus.

Mr. Edgett, who made his comments before the deal with Mr. Musk was announced, stressed that employees should not view his guidance as a deal-making insight. “This is meant to provide some peace of mind and explain how these things usually work, not because we think there will be one outcome versus another,” he wrote in letters to employees reviewed by The Times.

Twitter was on a hiring spree, spending $630 million on stock-based compensation in 2021, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. Twitter predicted in its February earnings report that it will spend between $900 million and $925 million on stock-based compensation this year.

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But Mr Musk’s campaign is also beginning to undermine Twitter’s attempts to hire new employees, according to internal documents outlining the company’s hiring efforts seen by The Times. Those documents said potential employees had expressed skepticism about Mr. Musk’s plans to change Twitter and modify the way it moderates its content.

Recruiters also worry that the shares listed in their offer letters could quickly plummet in value if Mr. Musk takes Twitter private.

Twitter’s hiring problem could be amplified further if current employees resign, as some have warned they will if Mr. Musk takes over. Other employees worried about layoffs or losing work visas under Mr. Musk, and they raised questions about these issues with Mr. Agrawal.

Hiring managers have been asked to track the number of potential employees turning down job offers over concerns about Mr. Musk, according to internal communications reviewed by The Times.

The staff 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 that has become a selling point for employees and recruits? Mr. Musk, after all, Fight with California officials To keep his car factory open early in the pandemic.

Mr. Agrawal tried to calm his workforce. In a question-and-answer session on Monday, he urged employees to “run Twitter like we’ve always done,” adding, “How we run the company, the decisions we make, the positive changes we drive — it’s going to be on us, and under our control.”

The pressure to mention Mr. Musk is in stark contrast to the welcome he received from staff two years ago. Although some employees at the event in 2020 said they were skeptical of Mr. Musk, many listened intently when he gave his advice to Twitter: The company should ramp up moderation, he said, by doing more to weed out bots and human fraudsters. Actual users of 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 immediately respond.

Ryan Mac And Mike Isaac Contribute to the preparation of reports.