Employees asked Musk tough questions. He still doesn’t have all the answers.
Elon Musk, the new would-be owner of Twitter, talked to the company’s employees for the first time today in a Q&A session. The meeting was meant to be an opportunity for him to assuage employee concerns after the Tesla CEO publicly criticized the company, its leadership, and the number of spambots on the platform in recent weeks. But Musk’s responses on some key topics like layoffs, content moderation, and remote work were vague. They likely did little to satisfy employees worried about Elon’s leadership, according to several staffers who talked to Recode after the meeting and internal Slack conversations viewed by Recode.
“I love Twitter,” Musk said at the beginning of the meeting, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Recode. Musk, who dialed in around 10 minutes late to the videoconference, apparently from his cellphone, added, “Some people use their hair to express themselves, I use Twitter. I find it’s the best forum for communicating with a lot of people simultaneously, and getting that message directly to people.”
In the meeting, Musk seemed to back away from a more absolutist stance toward “freedom of speech” on the platform. He said that while people should have a right to freedom of speech, they don’t necessarily have “freedom of reach,” meaning that Twitter doesn’t have to amplify ideas like Holocaust denial on the platform. While his answer on this topic was more nuanced than some of his previous statements, it still seems unlikely to fully answer employee questions about how exactly Musk will change the company’s approach to moderating hateful and violent speech.
“There’s freedom of speech or freedom of reach,” Musk said. “And freedom of speech is one thing, because, like, anyone could just go into the middle of Times Square right now and say anything they want, they could just walk into the middle of Times Square and deny the Holocaust, okay? You can’t stop them, they will just do that. But that doesn’t mean you have to — that it needs to be promoted to millions of people.”
In the 45-minute meeting, Musk didn’t go into too much detail about his tactical plans as Twitter’s owner, giving non-committal answers about whether he has plans to lay off staff or force employees who are working remotely back in the office.
Twitter CMO Leslie Berland asked Musk selected questions that employees had submitted in the days ahead of the meeting, many of which were critical or pressed for more details about his plans to run the company. When asked about how he’s thinking about layoffs at Twitter, Musk replied vaguely.
“The company does need to get healthy. Right now, the costs exceed the revenue. So that’s not a great situation to be in,” Musk said. “And so there would have to be some rationalization of the headcount and expenses to have revenue be greater than the cost. Otherwise, Twitter is simply not viable.”
“Anyone who is obviously, like, a significant contributor, should have nothing to worry about,” Musk clarified. He similarly said that if an employee is “exceptional” then remote work is fine, but that the “bias is very much toward in-person work.”
Since first putting in his $44 billion bid to buy Twitter in April, Musk has created a flurry of uncertainty about the deal, at one point tweeting that it was “on hold” due to his concerns about the prevalence of spambots on the platform. The move raised questions about whether Musk was trying to renegotiate the deal at a lower price or attempting to back out altogether.
While some employees are excited for Musk’s arrival and hope he can help the company grow its size and profitability, the volatility around the deal and Musk’s unclear concept of freedom of speech have left many Twitter employees worried about how he plans to handle the platform once he’s in charge.
“He is demonstrating a dangerous lack of knowledge about technical, policy, and operational matters,” said one Twitter employee after the meeting, who has been granted anonymity over fear of retaliation. “The problem is that that lack could adversely affect the whole world. This isn’t just about employees. Employees care about the impact of their product in the world.”
Musk, however, seemed confident in his ability to run Twitter. When asked what he has an understanding of and what he needs to learn about the company, Musk said he gets Twitter because he’s a super user (Musk is one of the platform’s most-followed accounts with 98.3 million followers).
“I certainly am going to have a strong understanding of the product because I use Twitter every day, practically,” said Musk. “What I have less understanding of is, you know, like, this sort of bot spam or multi-user account — basically, anything that affects the monetizable daily user numbers is probably my biggest concern.”
Musk agreed to come to another Q&A with Twitter employees if there were more questions.