Elon Musk dropped more hints over the weekend about ways he’d make Twitter more profitable, now that his $44 billion acquisition of the social media platform is complete. Internally, employees continued to speculate about widespread layoffs, two employees told TIME.
Musk’s reign at the company so far, one employee said, exhibited “textbook dictator tactics: sow[ing] fear and confusion.”
The billionaire also amplified a lurid and baseless right-wing conspiracy theory about the Oct. 28 attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a tweet that was later deleted. Some media and policy analysts saw this as a bad omen for the spread of misinformation on Twitter under Musk.
Musk is also considering charging users $20 per month to keep their blue “verified” check mark, the Verge reports. Some Twitter employees were told to meet a deadline of Nov. 7 to prepare the new feature or they would be fired, according to the report.
A weekend of employee turmoil
Inside Twitter over the weekend, many employees traded rumors about Musk’s plans for the platform amid a lack of communication from company leadership. The mood was funereal, two employees who wished to remain anonymous told TIME. Employees widely predicted widespread layoffs without severance pay, especially in Twitter’s core engineering organization, based on Musk’s past statements and rumors spreading within the company. On Sunday Musk denied, in a tweet, a New York Times story that suggested he was planning to fire employees before Nov. 1, when the next round of company stock vests. The vests, which occur quarterly, represent a large percentage of some employees’ total compensation.
Documents show that—before the acquisition—the company had plans and policies in place around potential layoffs. An internal Twitter document from days before Musk’s acquisition, reviewed by TIME, says severance packages at Twitter include a lump cash sum of at least two months’ salary, the cash value of any equity that would have vested within three months from their last day at the company, and a cash contribution toward healthcare—so long as employees sign a separation agreement. Twitter’s previous leadership would consider giving employees on work-related visas “extended” notice periods in order to give them more time to find a new employer and remain in the country, the document says. One Twitter employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was much concern internally that employees on visas would not be given this extended notice period—meaning they could be forced to leave the U.S. as a result of being laid off.
A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
Musk appears to have brought in a group of trusted confidants to help him reshape Twitter in his image. Venture capitalist Jason Calacanis and crypto investor Sriram Krishnan both wrote on Twitter that they were helping Musk with the transition, although the formality of those arrangements was unclear. Dozens of Tesla engineers have been brought in and given accounts on internal systems in the days since Musk’s acquisition, the two Twitter employees told TIME. Some employees were asked to print out their recently-written code on paper and present it to Musk for review, according to reports.
How Twitter could change
In tweets over the weekend, Musk and people close to him floated making users pay for verification, bringing back Twitter’s discontinued short-form video app Vine, getting rid of character limits in tweets, and allowing advertisers to pay to send users direct messages. Musk also said on Friday that Twitter will establish a “content moderation council” to discuss “major content decisions or account reinstatements.”
Meanwhile, right-wing accounts across Twitter appeared to celebrate Musk’s takeover of the platform with a campaign of hate speech and racial slurs. Tweets including the n-word spiked by nearly 500% in the 12 hours following the announcement Musk had acquired the platform, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, a social media analysis group. “Evidence suggests that bad actors are trying to test the limits on Twitter,” the group said.
Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, wrote in a tweet that the site’s rules had not changed, and that the company was taking action against nearly 300 accounts that had posted more than 50,000 tweets repeatedly using one particular slur. Musk, who fired Twitter’s CEO and two other top executives as one of his first acts as Twitter’s owner, tweeted over the weekend to say he was confident in Roth, Twitter’s longtime safety chief. “To be super clear, we have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies,” Musk added.
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