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Elon Musk to address Twitter staff after internal outcry

Employees raged on internal message boards, expressing fears Musk will sabotage their culture and make it hard to do their jobs

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and chief executive officer of Tesla, in 2020. (Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg News)
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Twitter plans to host Elon Musk for a question-and-answer session with employees after a week of internal outcries over his appointment to the social network’s board of directors, according to company messages obtained by The Washington Post.

The announcement from Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal of the highly unusual internal AMA — which stands for “ask me anything” — session was an effort to assuage anxious workers, who in recent days have expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could inflict damage to the company’s culture, as well as make it harder for people to do their jobs.

“We say that Twitter is what’s happening and what people are talking about right now. Often, we [at] Twitter are what’s happening and what people are talking about. That has certainly been the case this week,” Agrawal wrote in a companywide email Thursday, inviting staff to the AMA. “Following our board announcement, many of you have had different types of questions about Elon Musk, and I want to welcome you to ask those questions to him.”

Town halls where employees can ask direct, pointed questions of senior leadership are a long-standing Silicon Valley tradition and take place regularly at Facebook, Google and Twitter. But hosting a board member at one is rare.

Elon Musk delayed filing a form and made $156 million

Twitter spokesperson Brenden Lee confirmed the AMA and declined to comment further. Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter said on April 5 that it would name Tesla boss Elon Musk to its board of directors, a day after the billionaire disclosed a 9.2% stake in the company. (Video: Reuters)

“Looking forward to working with Parag & Twitter board to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months,” Musk tweeted Tuesday, in a reply to a public welcome from Agrawal.

Hours earlier, Musk had polled his 80 million Twitter followers on whether they’d like to see an edit button — which would allow them to edit tweets after posting them — a winking nod to a long-standing feature request from the platform’s power users. The company confirmed later that the button was already in the works.

The elevation of Musk — who is CEO of Tesla and SpaceX — to the Twitter board after he quietly bought up more than 9 percent of the company will propel Twitter even further into the political and cultural wars playing out all over the U.S.

Twitter, which is based in liberal San Francisco and has over 5,000 employees who can work remotely from anywhere, is known for an extremely liberal and vocal corporate culture. Recently departed CEO Jack Dorsey is a prominent supporter of Black Lives Matter. Twitter was the first company to take action against President Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, as well as the first company to allow employees to permanently work from home. Engineering teams have spent years building tools to fight spam, misinformation and hate speech.

Musk, on the other hand, has used his own widely followed Twitter account to question the need for content moderation, promote himself as a champion of free speech, and — as several employees noted this week in internal messages — appear to mock gender pronouns. He has also been known as a harsh manager who will seek to fire people on the spot when they are not on board with his way of thinking.

“Quick question: If an employee tweeted some of the things Elon tweets, they’d likely be the subject” of an HR investigation, one employee noted on company Slack channels. “Are board members held to the same standard?”

Another post said that employees were struggling with welcoming a leader whose values seemed to be in contradiction with the company’s.

“We know that he has caused harm to workers, the trans community, women, and others with less power in the world,” that employee asked. “How are we going to reconcile this decision with our values? Does innovation trump humanity?”

Another employee who said he used to work at Tesla said he “witnessed the awful changes in company culture that followed” after Musk took over as CEO. “I’m extremely unnerved right now, because I’ve seen what he can do firsthand,” the person said.

All week, senior Twitter executives chimed in on Slack to remind workers that the company’s culture remained the same and that Musk wasn’t going to be put in charge of major decisions, noting that Agrawal was still “the tiebreaker.”

Elon Musk joins Twitter's board, promises significant improvements

But for someone who designated himself initially as a “passive” investor — which means a shareholder who does not aim to influence or change control of the company — before he joined the board, Musk appeared already to have an outsize role.

Some of the concerns from Twitter employees about the potentially outsize role Musk would play echoed earlier outcries that took place in recent years at Facebook, where employees repeatedly raised questions over the influence of controversial right-leaning board member Peter Thiel.

Dorsey tweeted that Agrawal and Musk would be an “incredible team.” And the invitation to the AMA alongside the CEO also seemed to suggest that Musk would be given greater authority.

“A wide range of views and voices define our service,” Agrawal wrote in his email Thursday. “And that should be reflected and embraced internally too.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.