Can Twitter emerge from chaos?

The numbers are hard to believe. On October 28, on Elon Musk’s first day at the head of Twitter, the blue bird social network had 7,400 employees worldwide and 5,500 contractors (the latter mainly responsible for moderation). Monday, November 21, there were only 1,000 employees out of 7,400, and 1,100 contractors out of 5,500. That is a purge of 6,400 people on the employee side -86% of the workforce-, and 4,400 people on the contract side (80%). All in just 23 days. A real disaster.

Also read how Elon Musk puts Twitter and the economy in the post-truth era

Three waves of layoffs in three weeks

To reduce payroll, Elon Musk did it in three stages. First, a large social plan with an ax about 50% of the company’s workers, should be 3,700 people, in the first week of November. The following week, the new boss attacked contract workers, announcing the dismissal of 80% of them, mainly for content moderation, even though Twitter was considered before the takeover as one of the most popular social networks. less effective on the subject. Finally, in the third week of November, Elon Musk attacked the survivors of the first social plan by giving an ultimatum to the 3,700 remaining employees: work “ absolutely, absolutely or take the door.

According to Fortune magazine, 75% of the remaining people chose to leave at that time. Add to these waves of departures several hundred dismissals scattered throughout the month – especially employees and managers who openly or internally criticized the management of Elon Musk – and Twitter will now have only 1,000 employees and 1,100 contract workers, that is, 2,200 in all, against 12,900 twenty-three days earlier!

In fact, we will remember from the first month of Elon Musk four “accomplishments”, each one more disturbing than the other: the killing of the payroll; the spectacular failure of the $8 per month Twitter Blue subscription, which was launched and then indefinitely discontinued due to mass redundancy; the break in assumed neutrality when Elon Musk called on his 118 million followers to vote Republican in the midterm elections in early November, confirming fears about his political agenda; and the reinstatement of Donald Trump following a simple poll, even though the former president was banned from all major social networks last year for his active role in inciting the riots at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which caused six deaths.

Also read Could Musk’s approach lead Twitter to bankruptcy?

Brutality and speed, Musk’s method of action

These first weeks provide a fairly clear overview of the method and style of management of Elon Musk: to clean the record of the old Twitter – whose corporate culture he hates – to rebuild from the rest. . So, after outright firing half the workers and firing all those who dared to criticize him, the ultimatum given to the rest sounds like a new purge, qualitatively this time, by firing everyone of those who had survived until then. but which do not share its values.

Problem: the purge is so violent that there is nothing left. While Twitter certainly had some “fat” trimmed from its workforce before Musk, it seems unlikely that the company is employing 10,800 too many people. Which does not fail to call into question Twitter’s ability to function normally for its users, in a safe manner, and to meet its legal obligations for content moderation.

But ignore the violence and danger that Musk’s method creates for the company’s short-term survival. Elon Musk is on a cultural crusade against the old Twitter. ” I can tell you what works at Tesla: be physically present in the office and give it your all »; said the entrepreneur in a Spaces, a chat room in the social network. The purge therefore also involves the destruction of Twitter’s corporate culture. The new boss considers it too liberal in its general teleworking, in the typical development of Silicon Valley, and in the human resources policy based on goodness and benefits for employees such as free and all-you-can-eat that canteen. With his arrival, Elon Musk applied to Twitter what works in his other companies: face-to-face every day of the week with exceptions. The billionaire also ended free meals in an effort to optimize costs.

Also readNew cleaning on Twitter: does Elon Musk want to kill the social network?

Sketches of a vague and incoherent project

This method that combines speed and brutality, with little regard for the concrete consequences of its decisions, also applies to business. Elon Musk has the color is clearly revealed : ” Please note that Twitter is going to do a lot of stupid things in the coming months. We’ll keep what works and change what doesn’t “, he said in a tweet.

The too-rapid launch of Twitter Blue, even though its excesses were not only predictable but revealed, inaugurate this list of follies. But does this mean Elon Musk doesn’t have a plan? Wait for a while. If he seems to spend a lot of time every day reading and responding to tweets, the businessman has also expressed in recent weeks, lost in the sea of ​​his provocations and trolls of all kinds, many ideas that outline the future which are social network developments.

Elon Musk promises the imminent arrival of payment, the encryption of private messages, the salary of content creators (to compete with platforms like Onlyfans?) or even the strengthening of the fight against child pornography. It is difficult to recognize the general coherence: the entrepreneur is constantly experimenting, discovering his intuitions without anyone questioning – he removed the board of directors – and we will see later. Forced to buy Twitter for the exorbitant price of 44 billion dollars after months of trying to cancel the sale, Musk was even happy that his true intentions were unclear: did he want to save Twitter or destroy it?

So here he is suggesting, with a skull emoji paired with a robot emoji, that general work automation will replace laid-off employees. The other day he posted a both where he portrays himself celebrating the death of Twitter on his grave. The entrepreneur seems to be laughing at the “enormous” leakage – this is his own word – of advertisers, even though advertising represents 90% of the social network’s revenue. As if part of the game is the possibility of Twitter filing for bankruptcy – a threat he also waved at the beginning of the month. Since October 28, when he arrived at the place with a sink (sink in English ) in his arms, Musk also plays with the double meaning of the word, which is also a verb that can be translated as “empty” – which is the herald of cleaning of human resources -, but also “submerged”.

As a great agitator, Elon Musk overplayed the trust in his vision, but did not reveal any growth method for Twitter beyond making massive operating expenses. Which takes us back a few months, when Musk wanted to drop the acquisition but Twitter apparently stuck him with a firm contract. Musk then openly taunted the previous leadership with a flurry of cryptic tweets suggesting that it was all part of his grand plan, whose genius was inaccessible to ordinary mortals. Except that in the end, Elon Musk was unable to get out of the deal – the contract was actually made to him, Twitter is right – or to lower the price by 44 billion dollars. On the other hand, he ruined the reputation of Twitter and himself. There is no doubt that the boss of Tesla and SpaceX is an extraordinary businessman with brilliant intuition – he revived the electric vehicle sector and revolutionized the space industry – but since April, he has not shown any concrete and viable projects economic for the social network.

Also read: Paying Twitter: Elon Musk takes the first step towards his “universal app”

The next decisive week for Twitter

The possibility that Elon Musk is using Twitter to promote the interests of his other companies – including Tesla – and to advance the political agenda ofalternative rights -the most radical fringe of the Republicans-, cannot be discarded. Since he has shown pro-Russian and pro-Chinese positions in the context of the respective conflicts in Ukraine and Taiwan, the businessman has warmed his relationship – somewhat strained because his Starlink satellite helps Ukraine – with the leaders of the two strategic this market, particularly China. .

Meanwhile, Tesla is suffering from Elon Musk’s Twitter antics. Its investors are concerned about the dismissal of their managing director and fear his misconduct. Especially since the macroeconomic context is punishing all tech stocks in the stock market. Tesla shares went from 308 dollars on September 20 to… 168 dollars on November 22.

The next few weeks will be decisive in judging Elon Musk’s project and Twitter’s ability to cope with the drastic changes imposed by its new owner. With 6,440 fewer employees and 4,400 contractors, will the social network continue normal and safe operations? How will regulators and advertisers react?