‘No method to the madness’: Inside Elon Musk’s chaotic Twitter takeover

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Michell Eloy

“[Twitter] employees felt like they had no idea what Twitter 2.0, what this hardcore version of Twitter, actually stood for,” says journalist Zoe Schiffer. Photo by Shutterstock.

Roughly three months have passed since Elon Musk took over Twitter, and it’s been an objective disaster. Musk is no longer the richest person in the world. He fired half the company’s staff and almost crashed the site. He also let hate-mongers back on the platform, stopped paying rent on Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, and staff reportedly had to bring their own toilet paper. Now, Musk faces a giant interest payment on Twitter’s debt, which is estimated to be about $300 million. 

Zoe Schiffer, managing editor of Platformer, recently penned a story that details how Musk’s takeover upended the lives of Twitter’s employees.

Some staffers were thrilled when Musk announced his intention to buy the company, Schiffer says. 

“You definitely saw the employees who really looked up to Elon Musk at the time and were excited to have him onboard. You have to remember that at the time, Twitter wasn't known for being particularly innovative. And for a lot of employees, it was frustrating how slow it was to roll out new products,” she explains.

A larger share felt apprehensive, and their discomfort only grew. 

Schiffer says when Musk finally arrived, he was accompanied by lieutenants. He would announce a change, but they would later advise against it, creating confusion. That includes his desire to print out repository code for review.

“Minutes later, the goons would say, ‘No, no, no. Tear it all up because it's a security risk.’ And [staff was] just getting these back-and-forth messages, not really knowing what they meant or what they were for, but realizing that the goons didn't really know what they were doing, and perhaps Elon Musk neither.”

Fears also swirled, prompted by rumors that 75% of Twitter’s workforce would be laid off. 

That created nervousness among staff: “​​Every day they were checking their emails, nervously checking Slack saying, ‘Is this the day it's gonna happen? Will I have my job tomorrow?’ Weeks passed, they get zero communication from Elon Musk. And then finally, a couple of weeks after the deal closed, they do get an email saying, ‘Hey, tomorrow morning by 9 a.m., check your email, you'll know whether or not you have a job.”

She continues, “That night in Slack, we saw hundreds and hundreds of employees posting the salute emoji, and these final messages saying goodbye to their colleagues and really, goodbye to what Twitter once was, because whether you were leaving or staying, you knew the company was never going to be the same.”

Schiffer says there was “no method to the madness” of mass layoffs. Musk announced there would need to be cuts, but offered no guidance on how.

“What we saw was the goons telling managers, ‘Hey, stack rank your teams, tell us who the highest performers are and who the lowest performers are.’ Every single manager had a different criteria for ranking their teams. Those lists were all smashed together into one master list, and then the bottom half of that list was cut. We saw entire teams that were in charge of really core parts of Twitter's infrastructure reduced to one or two people overnight.”

After the layoffs, Musk announced he wanted the remaining workers to be “extremely hardcore,” labeling the company as “Twitter 2.0” in an email. 

“[Musk said] if you want to sign up for it, you can expect to work longer hours. Only excellence receives a passing grade. You probably won't get stock unless you're absolutely a top performer. And employees were asked to sign a pledge that said basically, ‘Yes, I sign up or no, I resign.’”

Overnight, Schiffer says hundreds of people resigned. 

“This was a failure to read the room on Elon Musk's part. I think employees felt like they had no idea what Twitter 2.0, what this hardcore version of Twitter, actually stood for. They knew what Elon Musk didn't want. He didn't want the chill work culture. He didn't want the gourmet lunches. He didn't want the one day off every month that employees got to rest and recuperate. But what did they have in its place? They weren't actually sure.”

Now, Schiffer says employees who remain fall into a few different camps: those who bought into Musk’s vision, the ones who are trapped by visa or health care requirements, and workers who believe in Twitter’s mission. 

It’s uncertain what might happen next, but Schiffer says Tesla and SpaceX investors are unhappy with how much attention Musk is giving Twitter. 

“[Musk] said that he wants to bring someone else onboard [to lead the company]. So perhaps that happens. I think the most likely scenario is that whoever he brings onboard is someone who he expects will do his bidding. And so whether that will change the platform fundamentally from its current trajectory — I think it's difficult to say. But I do think we have yet to see a viable alternative to Twitter. And I do think there's a sizable portion of the user base that wants to see the company turn it around.”



  • Zoe Schiffer - managing editor of Platformer, an investigative newsletter covering tech