Elon Musk has publicly clashed with a growing number of Twitter employees over the state of the platform, firing at least one of them in a tweet, an unusually visible sign of corporate chaos following his $44 billion acquisition of the influential company.
Musk got into a dispute with software developer Eric Frohnhoefer on Twitter Monday, which ended with the billionaire tweeting “He’s fired” and Frohnhoefer confirming that he had lost access to Twitter’s internal systems. The public termination came after Frohnhoefer tweeted evidence suggesting Musk was “wrong” with his claims that Twitter was “super slow” in various countries, as the billionaire put it.
Frohnhoefer told CNN Monday night he found out about the layoff when a friend sent him Musk’s tweet, saying that “no one reached me from Twitter.” Frohnhöfer added that under Musk he was “willing to try” and described himself as “in the wait and see camp,” but that “everything that has been reported is true.” He described working for Musk as a “total shit show” and the current state of affairs as pure “chaos”.
At least one other employee who spoke out on the matter had also been fired, according to a tweet by that employee Tuesday morning. And a handful of other Twitter employees said on the platform Tuesday that they were fired by an email that said their “conduct violated company policy,” with some speculating the move was in response to comments might have been that they made in internal Slack channels. Sources have told CNN that employees have been very open in criticizing Musk on the company’s Slack for the past few days. (CNN has attempted to contact fired employees to confirm this.)
In response to a tweet about news of Tuesday’s layoffs, Musk said, “I want to apologize for firing these geniuses. Her immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.”
The layoffs come after Musk cut half of Twitter’s staff and reportedly many of its contractors in a way many critics have described as a slapdash that could endanger the platform. Musk’s retaliation for those who disagree with him also comes as he has tightened his grip on the company by ousting Twitter’s top executives and eliminating its board of directors.
In her absence, Musk now runs Twitter with the help of friends Jason Calacanis and David Sacks; his personal attorney, Alex Spiro; and reportedly engineers on loan from some of his other companies, including Tesla (TSLA). In addition to the public rebuffs from employees, some Twitter employees appear to have attempted to privately appeal to Musk and his inner circle as they weigh numerous disruptive changes to the platform.
An internal document made available to CNN indicates that employees had raised concerns with Musk and others about some of the likely consequences of Twitter rolling out its new $8-per-month verification service. The document, dated November 1 and proven prescient in its predictions, includes a list of recommendations on how to avoid the most extreme potential consequences of launching a subscription where everyone could pay $8, to get a verified tick.
“Legacy verification is a crucial signal in enforcing impersonation rules, the loss of which will likely result in an increase in impersonation of high-profile accounts on Twitter,” the document reads, adding that such issues could lead to a loss of trust between the high-profile User. Concerns have also been raised that the service could lead to a “pay-to-play” system where key voices who cannot or do not want to pay for the subscription, such as “individuals in sanctioned countries (including dissidents and activists)” could be deprioritized.
Esther Crawford, a Twitter product manager who is reportedly now leading the refresh of the Twitter Blue subscription service, was briefed on the document ahead of the launch of the paid verification option last week, as were Musk and his attorney Alex Spiro, a source told CNN. Digital news outlet Platformer was the first to report details of the document.
Within hours of launching the paid verification system last week, Twitter was hit on its platform by a wave of celebrities and corporate identifiers who quickly played through the system, possibly contributing to growing uncertainty among the advertisers who make up almost all of Twitter’s business . The paid subscription service was suspended without warning on Friday. It wasn’t immediately clear when the company might reinstate the offer.
Despite the apparent dismissals of employees who spoke out, some continued to do so publicly. After Musk released a chart that allegedly showed a slight increase in daily active Twitter users, a data scientist at the company responded that the chart was flawed. When asked by a user if the employee was “safe,” the employee replied, “He’ll never catch me.”