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Elon Musk plans layoffs at Twitter with new team


SAN FRANCISCO — Members of billionaire Elon Musk’s inner circle huddled with Twitter’s remaining top executives over the weekend, conducting detailed discussions regarding the site’s approach to content moderation, as well as plans to lay off 25 percent of its workforce to begin with.

Alex Spiro, a well-known celebrity attorney who has represented Musk for several years, led those talks. Spiro is taking an active role in leading multiple teams at Twitter, including legal, public relations, policy and marketing, according to four people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe them, as well as tweets from some of the people involved.

Longtime Musk associates David Sacks and Jason Calcanis appeared in a company catalog over the weekend, according to photos obtained by The Washington Post. Both had official company emails, and their titles were “staff software engineer.” Musk’s title in the directory was CEO, although that position has not been disclosed. He refers to himself as “Chief Twit.”

On October 27, Elon Musk completed the purchase of Twitter and began taking control of the social media company, firing several key executives. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, the team decided on what is expected to be a first round of layoffs, which will target about a quarter of its workforce of more than 7,000, according to one of the people. Layoffs will affect nearly every department, and are expected to specifically affect sales, product, engineering, legal and trust and safety in the coming days, the person said. After engineers, some of Twitter’s highest-paid employees work in sales, with several earning more than $300,000, according to documents seen by The Post.

Elon Musk buys Twitter and fires top executives

Twitter, Musk, Spiro, Sacks and Calcanis did not respond to requests for comment.

The billionaire Tesla owner bought Twitter for $44 billion last week after grueling months of negotiations and legal wrangling. Musk first made a bid for the company this spring, then tried to back out months later. Twitter sued to force him to complete the deal, and eventually the entrepreneur relented and offered to buy the company for the original offer price.

Musk has turned to several longtime allies as he begins his overhaul of Twitter.

Sacks, a conservative zealot and donor, has worked with Musk since their days running PayPal together two decades ago. Sacks has laid out strong ideas about online content moderation and has criticized censorship by Big Tech.

Calcanis is also a longtime Musk friend who texted him frequently to offer advice on the deal, including regarding job cuts, court records showed.

Document detailed plans to jettison Twitter’s workforce

Calacanis tweeted that Saturday was “Day Zero” along with a picture of a Twitter coffee mug, adding that he had discussed security issues, along with bots and trolls, with Yoel Roth, a Twitter executive responsible for content moderation policy. Roth then released details of those guidelines.

On Sunday, Musk released apparently internal memos from Roth about Twitter calculations, claiming they show Twitter’s board and lawyers “deliberately hid … evidence from court.” The tweet showed that Musk was using his newly gained access to inside information to potentially settle scores.

The new management team is asking questions about all aspects of the business, including details on content moderation, spam and the risks of upcoming elections, the people said.

Another Musk associate who tweeted about his involvement, Sriram Krishnan, a cryptocurrency-focused partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, also tweeted that he helped with the deal. The firm invested 400 million dollars.

Less than three days into Musk’s ownership, Twitter employees remained in the dark about any new plans for the company as of Sunday night, according to a number of employees contacted by The Post, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs. The company has not yet made a formal announcement about the acquisition. The communications department has gone silent. Rumors have been swirling about layoffs, and some warnings have gone silent.

Twitter layoffs are imminent

Layoffs are expected to begin before November 1, when Twitter employees will receive additional compensation related to stock grants. On Sunday, Musk tweeted that reports of impending layoffs on Twitter next week were “false.”

Earlier this year, Musk told potential partners in the deal that he planned to cut nearly 75 percent of Twitter’s total workforce, which would leave the company with about 2,000 employees, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Post. Musk told employees last week when he visited Twitter’s headquarters that he had no plans to cut three-quarters of the workforce.

Another person familiar with the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters last week, said the total number of layoffs is likely to be closer to 50 percent.

Musk has already fired four top executives, sent Tesla engineers to evaluate Twitter’s software code, and has tweeted that he plans to form a content moderation council of experts.

Meanwhile, illustrating the difficulties of his new task, Musk tweeted out content from a website known for publishing misinformation this weekend.

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, posted a tweet criticizing the GOP for spreading “hate and deranged conspiracy theories” that she said had encouraged the man who attacked Representative Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, inside the couple’s San Francisco home early Friday.

Musk wrote, in a reply to the tweet, that “There is a small possibility that there may be more to this story than meets the eye,” and shared a link to an article in the Santa Monica Observer, the website described by fact-checkers as a source of low credibility favoring the extreme right. The article claims, without evidence, that Paul Pelosi was drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute, referencing a conspiracy theory that had previously been spread on the right. Other right-wing influencers with whom Musk has interacted online also reinforced the conspiratorial narrative.

The actions of Musk, who has since removed the tweet, show that Twitter has a complicated road ahead of it, especially when it comes to navigating Musk’s public actions and squaring that with what he says in private.

Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.

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