It’s been a rough start for Twitter Inc. under Elon Musk.
In the two weeks since the tech billionaire took ownership of Twitter, he’s axed half of the company’s more than 7,000 employees, fired most of its executive leadership and demanded those who remain to return to the office immediately — ending remote work, monthly “days of rest” and free food. He’s told employees to brace themselves for long hours, that “the road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed,” and said bankruptcy was possible if the company doesn’t stop bleeding cash soon.
With $1.2 billion of annual interest payments from the acquisition coming due, and possibly higher with rising interest rates, Musk is in a rush to shore up cash. But with brands pulling back on spending as fears of recession loom, he’s in a race to find new sources of revenue. With teams working around the clock to add blue “verification” check marks to the subscription product, impersonator accounts are proliferating, resulting in an exodus of brands that is causing the company to lose $4 million a day, according to Musk.
Here’s how the saga is unfolding:
Oct. 27: Musk takes control
After being forced to complete the deal to buy Twitter for $44 million, Musk announces he has taken possession of the social network. His first act is to fire the Board along with Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal, head of legal and policy Vijaya Gadde and General Counsel Sean Edgett, among others in executive leadership.
After changing his Twitter bio to call himself “Chief Twit,” Musk forms a small advisory team that includes celebrity attorney Alex Spiro, venture capitalist and engineer David Sacks, Neuralink Corp. CEO and head of Musk’s family office Jared Birchall, tech investor Jason Calacanis, and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz Sriram Krishnan.
Oct. 28: Brands begin to take pause
As Musk plans to unban accounts and says he will charge for user verification, advertisers start to get nervous. General Motors Co. suspends ads, and others review their Twitter budgets.
Oct. 31: Top tweeters protest
Amid murmurings of plans to charge existing verified accounts, bestselling author Steven King tweets, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? F**k that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.” Musk replies, “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?” Musk double downs on promoting the product. A possible release date of Monday, Nov. 7 is debated.
Nov. 1: Teams working around the clock
The product team works over the weekend on Musk’s idea to charge users for blue check marks. A photo of product director Esther Crawford sleeping on the floor of a conference room, trying to make the deadline, goes viral. Meanwhile, managers are asked to make lists of who can be fired. Employees print out their software code for review by Musk and engineers from Tesla Inc., to determine if their contributions are worthy of keeping a job.
Nov. 3: Massive layoffs begin
A memo is sent to all employees telling them of imminent layoffs and to watch for an email with the subject line: “Your Role at Twitter.” Badge access to offices is suspended as 3,700 staffers receive word that they’ve been cut. Sources report chaos in the aftermath with “survivors” not knowing who will be their boss or which projects to work on, and project leads not knowing who is left on their team. Realizing employees essential for the continuity of the business have been let go by mistake, some are asked to come back.
Co-founder Ev Williams tweets, “Heart’s out to the tweeps getting laid off today.” Days later, co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who was a proponent of Musk’s acquisition, adds, “I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that.”
A class action lawsuit is filed questioning whether California employees were given enough notice under state law.
Meanwhile, more advertisers tap the brakes, concerned that cuts to content moderation teams means their ads could show up alongside unsavory content.
Nov. 5-6: Musk responds to celebrity protests
Unrest grows on the platform over the weekend, particularly over the issue of impersonator accounts. Actress Valerie Bertinelli starts a movement of people changing their Twitter names to “Elon Musk.” Comedian Kathy Griffin joins the protest, finds her account locked, and then Musk announces, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
Nov. 7: Musk urges followers to vote Republican before Election Day
Musk breaks out of the normal neutral posture of social media leaders when he tweets to his more than 100 million followers, “To independent-minded voters: Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic.” He then pins the tweet to the top of his profile.
Nov. 8: Musk sells more Tesla
Despite a previous vow not to sell any more Tesla stock, Musk sells an additional $3.95 billion, bringing the total sold in past year to $36 billion.
Nov. 9: Musk answers advertisers’ questions
In an attempt to stem the departure of brands from the platform, Musk hosts a Twitter Spaces Q&A with the head of sales Robin Wheeler, head of trust and safety Yoel Roth, and the CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, David Cohen. More than 114,000 listeners tuned in, including a number of official brand accounts such as Target, Pandora, Chipotle and Chevron. Musk brainstorms about how his subscription product can grow by building more commerce into the platform, including by offering high yield money market accounts on Twitter that users can link with their bank accounts.
Soon after, the company’s blue check mark option becomes available for purchase, and immediately becomes a tool for impersonators. An account masquerading as Nintendo Inc. posts an image of Super Mario holding up a middle finger, while a fake Eli Lilly & Co. account tweets that insulin is now free. An impersonator Tesla Inc. account jokes about the carmaker’s safety record. Politicians and celebrities are also spoofed.
Nov. 10: More key executives quit as Musk warns of bankruptcy
In his first meeting with employees, Musk tells them to brace for 80-hour weeks and requires everyone back in the office full time, ending remote work and other perks like free food. He also says bankruptcy for the company is not out of the question if it doesn’t start generating more cash, and that teams need to move with urgency on the $8 subscription product.
Several executives in charge of keeping Twitter safe and accountable to its users quit, including chief information security officer Lea Kissner, chief privacy officer Damien Kieran and chief compliance Marianne Fogarty. Their departure raises concerns about the company’s ability to keep its platform secure and comply with regulations. Later in the day there is news that both Roth and Wheeler resign, although soon after Wheeler returns.
Nov. 11: Verified accounts get “Official” tags
Twitter adds badges that say “offiical” to verified accounts in some places, though confusion abounds.
More brands depart the platform, including theatre guide Playbill. “Because of its tolerance for hate, negativity, and misinformation, our time with the social media platform has come to an end,” the theater guide company said in a statement. It warns fans to ignore any tweets from a Twitter account that contains the Playbill name. “Please understand that it is not us,” it said.