Twitter employees are searching for answers as Musk takeover becomes a reality

In January 2020, thousands of Twitter employees gathered in Houston for a corporate summit called #OneTeam. During the event, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO at the time, revealed that he had invited a surprise guest. Then, with a wink and a smile, Elon Musk appeared on giant screens across the stage. The audience cheered, clapped and pumped fists. “We love you,” shouted one employee.

Inside Twitter today, surprising announcements about Mr. Musk land differently. Employees said they had largely stopped celebrating the richest man in the world since he this month declared his intention to buy Twitter, shelve the guidelines for content moderation and turn the listed company into a private one. On Monday, Twitter announced that they had accepted Mr. Musk̵[ads1]7;s offer to buy the company for around $ 44 billion.

As the takeover battle unfolded over the past two weeks, Twitter employees said they were frustrated that they had heard little from management about what it meant to them, even when Twitter closed a deal with Mr. Musk on Monday morning. They asked its CEO, Parag Agrawal. They even asked Mr. Musk in questions posted on Twitter. Some even went to Charles Schwab, the finance company that manages their stock options, to find out what impact a sale of the company would have on them.

But they did not get many responses before Mr. Musk’s bid succeeded, said 11 Twitter employees who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak in public, although it became clear that they could soon report to Mr. Musk.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Agrawal and Twitter’s chairman, Bret Taylor, finally met with staff to discuss the deal. The compensation would largely remain the same under Mr. Musk, Mr. Agrawal said, but he did not give the same assurances about Twitter’s policies and culture.

“We are constantly developing our guidelines,” Agrawal said in response to a question from an employee about whether former President Donald J. Trump would be allowed back on the platform. “When the agreement is terminated, we do not know which direction this company will go in.”

The silence that hovered over the negotiations is routine in takeover battles, Taylor told employees. As the board conferences with bankers, lawyers and expensive public relations firms, employees are often kept in the dark. But for employees at Twitter, a company that has calculated itself as the world’s square, it was especially bitter to find out what’s going on with their company, primarily through Twitter, the service they built.

After years of leadership quarrels, demands for change from activist investors and frontier-testing tweets to Mr. Trump, Twitter’s more than 7,000 employees are used to unrest. But some of them say that the takeover of the mercurial billionaire has affected them in ways other corporate crises have not done.

Employees said they were concerned that Mr. Musk would regret the years of work they had put into cleaning up the toxic corners of the platform, increasing their stock compensation in the process of taking the company private and disrupting Twitter’s culture with his unpredictable and abrupt leadership style. proclamations.

But Mr. Musk also has fans among Twitter’s privates, and some employees have welcomed his bid. In an internal Slack message seen by The New York Times asking if employees were excited about Mr. Musk, around 10 people responded with a “Yes” emoji. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.

If Twitter is worth buying, much of the value lies in the employees who build and manage the service, said David Larcker, professor of accounting and corporate governance at Stanford University. “The wild card is, what if it’s a completely different company than they thought they worked for? It is an unpleasant working relationship, he said.

Mr. Musk has made some of his intentions clear in regulatory registrations, tweets and public appearances: The company must scrap almost all of its moderation policies, which prohibit content such as violent threats, harassment and spam. It needs to provide more transparency about the algorithm it uses to increase tweets in users’ news feeds. And it must be a private company.

Twitter has expanded its content moderation guidelines since 2008, when the 25th employee was hired specifically to combat abuse on the platform. The teams that monitor moderation and security have now grown to hundreds of employees.

Many Twitter employees feel personally invested in the company’s efforts to encourage healthy conversation – even if they do not work directly with content moderation – and have pressured executives to crack down on hate speech and misinformation, six employees said. They see Mr. Musk’s proposal to return to Twitter’s early, lax approach as a rebuke to their work.

But other employees have claimed in internal reports seen by The Times that their employees have moved too far to the left side of the political spectrum, making employees who support Mr. Musk’s plans too uncomfortable to speak out. In a labor-driven survey among nearly 200 Twitter employees at Blind, an anonymous workplace assessment app, 44 percent said they were neutral to Mr. Musk. 27 percent said they loved Mr. Musk, while 27 percent said they hated him.

Although executives and employees on Twitter have agreed with Mr. Musk on changes to the algorithm, this work is in the earliest stages and may take years to complete. It can test something Mr. Musk is not particularly known for – patience.

One of the biggest concerns among Twitter workers is whether they will take a financial shock from Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Many Twitter employees earn 50 percent or more of their total compensation from Twitter shares. Some employees said they feared missing out on the long-term value of their stock at Mr. Musk’s price of $ 54.20 per share.

At the meeting with employees on Monday, managers tried to assure the employees that they would not be deficient in Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Mr. Agrawal told employees that their stock options would be converted to cash when the deal with Mr. Musk was terminated, which he estimated would take between three and six months. Employees will receive the same benefit packages for one year after the agreement was completed, and there were no immediate plans for redundancies, he added.

In an earlier attempt to allay financial concerns, Sean Edgett, Twitter’s general counsel, told employees that any potential buyer would most likely be required to keep employees’ equity “as is” or provide equivalent compensation, such as a cash prize.

Mr. Edgett, who made his comments before the agreement with Mr. Musk was announced, stressed that employees should not look at his guidance as insight into the conclusion of the agreement. “This is meant to give some peace of mind and explain how these things usually work, not because we think it will be one outcome versus another,” he wrote in messages to staff reviewed by The Times.

Twitter has been in the hiring round and spent $ 630 million on stock-based compensation in 2021, an increase of 33 percent from the previous year. Twitter predicted in a February earnings report that they would spend between $ 900 million and $ 925 million on stock-based compensation this year.

But Mr. Musk’s campaign has also begun to undermine Twitter’s attempts to recruit new employees, according to internal documents outlining the company’s hiring efforts, which were seen by The Times. Potential employees have expressed skepticism about Mr. Musk’s plans to transform Twitter and upgrade content moderation, these documents state.

Recruits have also worried that the shares included in their offer letters could quickly be devalued if Mr. Musk took Twitter privately.

Twitter’s recruiting problem could spread further if current employees quit, as some have warned they would do if Mr. Musk took over. Other employees were concerned about layoffs or loss of work visas under Mr. Musk, and raised questions about these issues with Mr. Agrawal.

Managers responsible for hiring have been asked to keep track of the number of potential employees who turn down job offers due to fears of Mr. Musk, according to internal communications reviewed by The Times.

Employees have also wondered: Could he also move Twitter’s headquarters to Texas, as he did with Tesla? Can he end the company’s flexibility when it comes to returning to the office, which has become a selling point for employees and recruits? After all, Mr. Musk fought with California officials to keep his car factory open early in the pandemic.

Mr. Agrawal tried to calm his workforce. In Monday’s question-and-answer session, he encouraged employees to “run Twitter as we have always done,” adding that “how we run the company, the decisions we make and the positive changes we run – it will be up to us, and under our control. ”

The stress of mentioning Mr. Musk is a stark contrast to the welcome he enjoyed from staff two years ago. Although some employees at the event in 2020 said they were skeptical of Mr. Musk, many of them listened intently as he gave his advice to Twitter: The company should step up its moderation, he said, by doing more to weed out robots and scammers from the actual people who use the platform.

“By the way, do you want to run Twitter?” Mr. Dorsey asked Mr. Musk.

The assembled Twitter employees laughed. Mr. Musk did not respond immediately.

Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac contributed with reporting.

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