News about Elon Musk’s potential $44 billion purchase of Twitter is moving at the speed of…well, Twitter.
Case in point: The Washington Post dropped a bombshell Thursday night, and it was immediately supplanted in magnitude by Bloomberg. Musk has been telling investors he plans to fire 5,000 workers at the social media company, the Post said, leaving a “skeleton staff” of just 2,000.
According to the second report, however, Musk may not even get to own the company until he passes muster with the Biden administration — which is planning a “national security review” of Musk’s Twitter deal, alongside his Starlink satellite network.
Given that Musk “clearly” got his Ukraine “peace plan” tweet from Vladimir Putin, according to former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the U.S. step in before Musk’s purchase goes through. (Previously, the Twitter sale was expected to be completed before Halloween.) Musk responded to the national security news with two of his go-to emoji.
Even if Team Biden does let Musk take the reins, there’s good reason to believe the “75 percent of Twitter” plan is hogwash. But that’s no reason to cheer, because the world’s richest man does want to make Twitter a less safe place for its most vulnerable users.
Curiously, the 75 percent figure also appeared in a Bloomberg report from May — just not in Musk’s words. Tech investors Marc Andreessen and David Sacks have both suggested Musk should be open to firing up to 6,000 of what Sacks characterized as an 8,000-strong Twitter team. “No one knows what they all do,” he said in an interview with Fox & Friends‘ Will Cain.
Musk has good reason to tell investors what they want to hear, and it is likely that he has parroted the Andreesen-Sacks line at least once. But at the same time, the New York Times got hold of the pitch deck Musk has been using when in “serious businessman” mode, and it says something completely different.
Far from firing, Musk will actually boost employment at Twitter, the deck said. The potential new owner wants to see more than 11,000 employees at the company, with the first 1,000 extra hires — mostly engineers — coming before the end of 2022. (Granted, the deck also suggests there would be a tiny amount of layoffs in 2023, but Musk apparently also wants to give employees an extra $2 billion in stock options.)
Is Musk talking out of both sides of his mouth at once? That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for a man who has so publicly reversed course on his desire for the Twitter purchase (he was all for it until he suddenly “discovered” a large number of bots on the service), and was all for supporting Ukraine with Starlink until he suddenly “decided” the threat of escalating war means we should offer Putin everything he wants.
But here’s what we do know. Musk really, really doesn’t like content moderation. He doesn’t see why there should be consequences for hate speech, or even actual insurrection. He seems to believe Donald Trump belongs back on Twitter, even as the two feud. He thinks it’s fun and edgy to tweet (and delete) pictures of himself with Ye (fka Kanye West) immediately after the troubled rapper made anti-semitic comments.
If Musk were to fire three-quarters of the company, it would be by far the largest percentage of outright layoffs in these troubled times for tech world. Facebook recently put 15 percent of its employees on “Performance Improvement Plans,” supposedly a prelude to an unknown number of “quiet layoffs.” Microsoft, Coinbase and Snap have all recently shed around 1,000 jobs apiece. Intel is reportedly about to announce layoffs in the multiple thousands, with some departments losing as many as 20 percent of employees.
Musk’s three-quarter bloodbath would put them all in the shade. Not even his most ardent online defenders would be able to spin that into a positive. He would be remembered as a hatchet man on the order of the fictional Mr. Potter — and at the holidays, too! It doesn’t exactly jibe with the lighthearted LOL-I-was-only-joking troll image the man has made for himself.
Not only that, such a level of firings would turn Twitter into even more of a trash fire than it currently is. One data scientist told the Post that child sexual abuse material would run rampant on the service. Users who aren’t in Musk’s weird troll army would head for the exits in droves. If the world’s richest man wants to create the world’s largest echo chamber for his increasingly childish musings … well, enjoy it while you can, Elon.
The key thing to remember, however, is that Musk isn’t going into this deal alone. There are billions of dollars on the line that aren’t his, including $1 billion from fellow Silicon Valley veteran Larry Ellison. Hence the pitch deck and its wild promises: quadruple the number of users! Launch a mystery service called “X” and make 104 million people pay for it by 2028!
And so we wait. We wait to see if the U.S. government will stop a national security threat from controlling the internet’s town square. We wait to see if Musk can find any other reason to not spend his billions on a company he no longer wants. And thousands of Twitter employees wait to see if they’ll still have jobs by the holidays.
There are no guarantees here in 2022, except that news will come faster, weirder, and probably a little worse.