The key moments that define Elon Musk’s time leading Twitter

From wary advertisers to massive layoffs, here’s what you need to know about the billionaire’s time at the helm

(Washington Post illustration; Shutterstock; Getty Images)
7 min

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has made a significant mark as the self-dubbed “Chief Twit” in his early ownership of Twitter.

After visiting the headquarters carrying a sink, he’s slashed the company’s workforce, reinstated controversial suspended accounts, launched new products and policies and orchestrated a companywide executive shake-up — all in just over seven weeks. And he’s tried to make good on the promises he made before buying the company to be an “inclusive arena for free speech.”

Musk posted a Twitter poll this week asking users if he should step down, pledging to abide by the results. The voters overwhelmingly ruled that, yes, Musk should find a successor.

While long-term leadership of the company remains up in the air, here’s a look back at the biggest moments of Musk’s short and chaotic reign.


Musk guts Twitter’s workforce, issues ‘hardcore’ edict

One of Musk’s first moves after acquiring the company for $44 billion in late October was to launch a massive round of layoffs. Musk faced massive pressure to reduce costs, both to deliver on promises to investors and to afford roughly $1 billion annually in interest fees.

The huge round of layoffs cut in half Twitter’s roughly 7,500-person workforce. Less than two weeks later, he issued an ultimatum to staff: Commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter or leave the company with severance pay. Hundreds of employees refused to sign the pledge, leaving Twitter with a skeleton staff on many teams and prompting Musk to call remaining engineers to a last-minute meeting to assess their skills.

Musk has said Twitter’s workforce was too large and placed too much emphasis on content moderation, platform safety, product development and marketing. He also shortened project timelines and eliminated days of rest from employees’ calendars.

Elon Musk’s Twitter layoffs, explained


Musk reinstates Trump, other banned accounts

On his first full day as Twitter CEO, Musk pledged to set up a diverse guidance council to make decisions about who to ban and reinstate.

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” he wrote in a letter to advertisers.

Then Twitter suspended users who changed their names to parody Musk, including comedian Kathy Griffin. She was later reinstated, along with the Babylon Bee and another account that had been suspended under the prior regime for breaking rules on misgendering. Musk declared the new Twitter policy, “freedom of speech but not freedom of reach.”

The same day, he launched a poll to reinstate former president Donald Trump. A second poll offered “general amnesty” to numerous other suspended accounts.

“The people have spoken,” Musk wrote in a tweet about the Trump poll.

Proponents of Musk’s pledge to make Twitter a space for “free speech” cheered the decisions, but civil rights groups expressed alarm that Musk was reinstating accounts suspended for inciting violence or spreading misinformation.


Musk wrangles with Apple, advertisers

Following the massive layoffs, and a controversial incident in which Musk shared — and then deleted — a post that contained misinformation about the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, civil rights groups began to express concern about his leadership.

Dozens of Twitter’s top advertisers paused marketing on the site in the early weeks following Musk’s takeover. A Washington Post analysis of marketing data showed a third of Twitter’s top 100 marketers had not advertised on the social media network in the two weeks ending Nov. 22.

“Nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists,” Musk tweeted in early November. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Since then, Twitter disbanded its outside Trust and Safety Council that advised on how to keep the platform safe. Company insiders told The Post that Musk’s decisions have significantly changed internal trust and safety work.

Musk also briefly clashed with Apple in late November, saying the company threatened to block the social network from its App Store without explanation and mostly had stopped advertising on Twitter. Two days later, Musk met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and said that his claim that Apple had threatened to remove Twitter from the App Store was a misunderstanding.

Twitter dissolves Trust and Safety Council


Musk changes rules about location tracking, suspends journalists

Musk sparked backlash from media organizations and free press advocates in December when the company abruptly suspended the accounts of several journalists, including those from The Post, CNN, the New York Times and other outlets who had been covering or tweeting about the billionaire.

That followed the suspension of @ElonJet, which tracked the flights of Musk’s private plane. Twitter suddenly changed its policy to prohibit sharing “live location information,” including links to other websites that noted travel routes or other information. Musk cited safety concerns.

Musk had previously said he would keep the jet-tracking account, ran by a college student using public data, on Twitter. Musk launched another Twitter poll asking how long to suspend the accounts — although some were required to delete a tweet before they could post again.

Is plane tracking doxing? How public data enraged Elon Musk.


Musk promotes the ‘Twitter Files’

Musk heavily promoted a series of document disclosures he dubbed “The Twitter Files,” which have been released on Twitter over the past several weeks by a handpicked group of writers.

The disclosures, a series of threads on Twitter that have included screenshots of internal company emails and messages, show former Twitter executives wrestling with the company’s rules while making decisions about account suspensions, policing covid content, election misinformation and other topics.

The Twitter Files have been cheered by supporters of Musk’s “free speech” agenda and are seen by some conservatives as evidence that Twitter was acting unjustly. But the disclosures, which were billed as a bombshell, show no new evidence that the U.S. government or Democratic Party interfered to censor tweets in the run-up to the 2020 election. The screenshots have instead showed Twitter workers trying to interpret news during changing environments, at times reversing their decisions.

Musk has been criticized in other incidents for publicly lobbing disapproval at Twitter workers. Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, and his family were forced from their home earlier this month after Musk’s tweets misrepresented Roth’s academic writing about sexual activity and children.

Analysis: Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter files’ are an exercise in hypocrisy


Musk launches paid subscription for blue check marks

One of Musk’s first acts as Twitter CEO was to push the rollout of a feature within Twitter’s subscription service that would allow people to pay for blue check marks on their profile.

Blue check marks were previously given out only to verified accounts after Twitter had determined account-holder’s identities were real. But Musk’s new Twitter Blue service would allow anyone to pay $8 and receive the check.

The feature was paused a day after it launched after misinformation and account impersonations flooded the site. Accounts were created impersonating politicians including President Biden and celebrities, as well as brands announcing fake news.

After several more weeks of development, the company again launched the feature in December with some changes.

Cat Zakrzewski, Faiz Siddiqui, Jacob Bogage, Drew Harwell, Will Oremus, Taylor Lorenz, Naomi Nix and Jeremy Merrill contributed to this report.