Elon Musk has set plans in motion for broad layoffs at Twitter, according to people familiar with the matter, as the billionaire entrepreneur began to shake up the social media company just days after closing the $44bn buyout of the platform.
Musk has asked managers and advisers to name who should stay and who should be sacked, according to two people familiar with the matter. Musk is not seeking a fixed percentage of layoffs from Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce, the people said. Rather he wants to fire those who do not support him as leader, according to one of the people.
A representative for Musk declined to comment.
The planned layoffs come after Musk closed the deal to take the San Francisco social media group private on Thursday evening, and immediately fired several top executives, including Parag Agrawal, chief executive officer, and Vijaya Gadde, head of legal, policy and trust.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, the executives were expected to receive golden parachutes — nearly $60mn in Agrawal’s case. However, Musk terminated the executives “for cause”, two people familiar with the situation said, meaning he claimed to have a valid legal justification for doing so and therefore the payouts may be voided.
In this instance, Musk’s argument is that Twitter has been mismanaged and that if it were not for his bid, the value of the company’s stock would have collapsed, one of the people said. The executives, according to a person familiar with their thinking, are weighing their legal options over the decision. Denying severance payments related to acquisitions is unusual and the “for cause” clause typically requires misconduct to have taken place.
The closing of the $44bn deal marks the start of a new era for Twitter in which the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive will attempt to overhaul its struggling business, boost product innovation and make changes to its content moderation.
Musk, now calling himself “Chief Twit”, was active on Twitter over the weekend, sharing a penis meme, mocking an automated Twitter message apparently sent to him but meant for new employees, and hinting at forthcoming policy changes.
Asked to identify the “most messed up” thing at Twitter, he hinted at job cuts to come: “There seem to be 10 people ‘managing’ for every one person coding.”
On Sunday afternoon, he also said it was “false” that lay-offs would happen before November 1 — the next vesting date for employees’ stock grants — to avoid giving ousted employees their full pay.
Inside Twitter headquarters, Musk has begun populating a “war room” of trusted lieutenants to help him assess and better understand the inner workings of the business before deciding which actions to take. Handling legal and policy issues at the company is Alex Spiro, Musk’s outspoken personal lawyer, who appeared along with Musk at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters on Friday, two people said.
Musk, meanwhile, has focused on engineering and the product. In private messages revealed in court filings, he has previously suggested that he would not appoint any C-suite management positions at all and personally “oversee software development”.
David Sacks, a venture capitalist and close associate of Musk, is also part of the team supporting Musk, four people said. Antonio Gracias, a former Tesla director who founded private equity group Valor Equity Partners, is also advising him, one person said.
Sriram Krishnan, a venture capitalist at a16z and former Twitter product director, also tweeted confirming that he was “helping out” Musk “temporarily with some other great people”. He added: “I (and a16z) believe this is a hugely important company and can have great impact on the world and Elon is the person to make it happen.” Silicon Valley-based a16z was one of the equity backers of Musk’s deal to buy the company.
The New York Times first reported news of the war room, the layoffs plans and some of Musk’s team. The Information first reported that the Twitter executives were fired “for cause”.
Rumman Chowdhury, Twitter’s director of machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability, on Friday confirmed media reports that Twitter engineers were told to print off the past 30 to 60 days of code so that they could review it with Musk himself, before being directed to shred the pages instead. Another staffer posted a selfie alongside pages of code printed out, with the phrase “Happy friday all.”
Twitter’s source code is locked temporarily, save for critical changes, until early next week to prevent staffers going rogue during the handover, people said.
Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, has already faced concerns about his plans to loosen Twitter’s moderation policies, particularly from advertisers who do not want their marketing to run alongside toxic content.
On Sunday, he retweeted a post by Twitter’s current head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, which stated that the company’s policies banning hateful content had not changed. He added that Twitter had removed a small group of mainly fake accounts that had conducted a “trolling campaign” by posting obscenities in the wake of the deal.
Last week, Musk also promised to create a moderation council with “widely diverse viewpoints” and said that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes”.
Musk deleted a tweet he sent early on Sunday that amplified an unfounded theory that House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was beaten by a male prostitute rather than a deranged assailant in his home on Friday. “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” Musk wrote early on Sunday, before deleting it hours later.
Internally, some rank-and-file employees were downbeat. One described the mood as full of trepidation. Another expressed fears of being laid off and said it was demoralising to see other Twitter managers kowtowing to Musk.
Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.
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