(Bloomberg) — Elon Musk is working to make his mark on Twitter Inc., days after assuming ownership of the service.The world’s richest man has been reviewing the company’s code with help from Tesla Inc. engineers, while consulting with powerful friends he trusts to help him make important decisions about where to take the product.
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So far, it turns out that making major changes to a 16-year-old product with about 7,000 employees is easier said than done. Here’s an overview of what Musk is noodling – and how it intersects with reality:
Twitter employees have been bracing for layoffs ever since Musk took over and fired the top executive team, including Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal. Over the weekend, a few employees with director and vice president jobs were cut, according to people familiar with the matter. Other leaders were asked over the weekend to make lists of employees on their teams who can be cut, the people said. Employees are expecting to hear from Musk for the first time since the deal closed during an all-hands on Wednesday morning.
Senior personnel on the product teams were asked to target a 50% reduction in headcount, according to a person familiar with the matter. Engineers and director-level staff from Tesla reviewed the lists, the person said asking not to be identified discussing private information. Layoff lists were drawn up and ranked based on individuals’ contributions to Twitter’s code during their time at the company, the people said. The assessment was made by both Tesla personnel and Twitter managers.
Top of mind for employees: Stock awards vest Tuesday. Twitter Chief Accounting Officer Robert Kaiden told employees Tuesday morning that “payroll is working on processing the vest,” though money wouldn’t hit employee bank accounts for a few more days. Some employees had been waiting for that vesting date to voluntarily resign from the company, and if they do, Musk wouldn’t have to pay them severance. Others were worried that the layoffs would come before those stock rewards were vested.
Either way, staff have been exchanging private phone numbers and adding each other on the professional social network LinkedIn in anticipation of being fired, the people said.
Musk has turned toward old friends for advice in the first few days of his Twitter ownership. He’s been meeting regularly with David Sacks, a venture capitalist and friend from his PayPal days; Jason Calacanis, and friend and investor; and Sriram Krishnan, a former Twitter executive and current general partner at the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. The group has been discussing Twitter’s product strategy, though it’s unknown if any of them will be full-time leaders at the company. Both Calacanis and Sacks have Twitter email addresses in the company’s internal directory, and Krishnan tweeted Sunday that he’s still “very much in my day job” at Andreessen Horowitz.
One possible full-time leader is Kayvon Beykpour, the former head of Twitter product who was fired earlier this year by the prior CEO. While Beykpour was seen in the office after the deal closed and has been approached about a return, nothing has been finalized, according to people familiar with the matter.
Musk is considering a revival of Vine, according to people familiar with the matter. Vine, acquired by Twitter in 2012, was a popular short-form video app, which minted several internet stars before it faded and was shut down. The service started the trend now dominated by ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok and copied by Instagram’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts. Many employees are volunteering internally to work on the Vine project, according to a person familiar with the matter, hoping that joining an effort Musk is excited about might help them keep their jobs.
Bringing it back wouldn’t be as simple as turning it on. The product, shut down in 2016, is built on old code that would no longer communicate with Twitter’s current systems, and would likely have to be rewritten, according to people familiar with the matter. It would also lead to other challenges, like the possibility of music rights partnerships and need for better creator payment features.
Musk wants to start charging users for the blue-check verification badge, according to people familiar with the matter. He has tasked a team with building the option under threat of having their roles eliminated if they don’t achieve it in 7 days, the Verge reported.
The plan spurred lots of commentary from Twitter users, some of whom said they would never pay for something they used to get for free, while others said Twitter was leaving money on the table if it didn’t charge for something so coveted. Some critics of the plan noted that if Twitter charges, it will likely end up with fewer verified users, creating a breeding ground for impersonation and misinformation. Also, if verification becomes something users pay for — rather than qualify for, as public figures or brands — the blue tick mark could carry less social clout than it does today.
As part of the revamp of its subscription service, Twitter Blue, the company will remove a flagship feature that offered ad-free news articles from hundreds of publishers, said people familiar with the plan who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported the news earlier Tuesday.
Musk’s most well-known proposal for Twitter’s future: making it a haven for “free speech.” But it’s not clear how he plans to do so, yet. He’s said publicly that he will hold off on making decisions about which banned users will be restored until he can consult with a council of outside experts.
Internally, employees say, Musk has raised questions about a number of the policies, and has zeroed in on a few specific rules that he wants the team to review. The first is Twitter’s general misinformation policy, which penalizes posts that include falsehoods about topics like election outcomes and Covid-19. Musk wants the policy to be more specific, according to people familiar with the matter.
Musk has also asked the team to review Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, according to the people, specifically a section that says users can be penalized for “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.”
In both cases it is unclear if Musk wants the policies to be rewritten or the restrictions removed entirely.
While things get sorted out, some people who work in Twitter’s Trust and Safety organization are currently unable to alter or penalize accounts that break rules around misleading information, offensive posts and hate speech, according to people familiar with the matter. There are some exceptions, as the most high-impact violations that would involve real-world harm are handled manually. But some employees are concerned about the tools remaining frozen, days before a major US election.
–With assistance from Gerry Smith.
(Updates with employee stock vesting in the Job Cuts section)
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