In Elon Musk’s first three weeks as CEO of Twitter, he has orchestrated a firing spree at the company, laying off thousands of workers and, this week, seeking to crush dissent among employees by reportedly firing workers who have criticized him.
Overnight on Tuesday, Musk fired around 20 employees who have criticized him on the company’s Slack, a workplace instant messaging platform, according to tech newsletter Platformer. Workers were told that their “recent behavior has violated company policy” in emails, some of which employees received overnight.
“My twitter account was protected at the time, so I can only assume this was for not showing 100 percent loyalty in Slack,” one engineer, Nick Morgan, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve heard the same thing has happened to many others now.”
In a show of contempt for the workers he fired, Musk tweeted on Tuesday, “I would like to apologize for firing these geniuses. Their immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.” He also made an ableist comment against one of the fired workers in response to a post by far right harassment account Libs of TikTok.
Recent terminations appear to run directly against Musk’s supposed identity of being a “free speech absolutist.” The firings, along with the fact that Musk has begun banning and suspending users who make fun of him on the platform, are instead painting a picture of a man who will not tolerate criticism and who is openly hostile when people who work for him step out of line.
The group of firings came after Musk publicly fired an employee, Eric Frohnhoefer, who corrected a post Musk made on Monday about the speed of Twitter. Frohnhoefer, who said he had spent six years working on Twitter for Android, tweeted that Musk should “ask questions privately” of his workers, “maybe using Slack or email” — rather than making public, incorrect statements.
In response to Frohnhoefer’s posts, a Twitter user suggested that Frohnhoefer had an “attitude” that Musk wouldn’t want on his team, to which Musk responded: “He’s fired.” Musk’s tweet has since been deleted.
Frohnhoefer told Forbes that he didn’t get any official notice about his termination, but, rather, his work laptop was remotely shut down and password protected.
Guess it is official now. pic.twitter.com/5SRwotyD8J
— Eric Frohnhoefer @ 🏡 (@EricFrohnhoefer) November 14, 2022
The firings came after Musk fired thousands of workers at Twitter, seemingly with abandon. Shortly after he took the helm at the company, he laid off half of the staff, or about 3,700 workers. Then, over the weekend, Musk fired about 4,400 contractors that were working for the company, or about 80 percent of the contract workforce.
Even if Musk does stop the terminations soon — and former employees say he will have to if he wishes to continue having a functioning website — the recent round of firings will likely have a chilling effect on employees’ willingness to confront Musk or correct him when he’s wrong.
It’s within reason to assume that Musk is aiming to have employees who will capitulate to his every will. Workers at Tesla have reported there being a “cult-like” following for him at the company. “No company have I worked for, in our quarterly meetings, do you clap when a CEO walks into the podium. So that’s just something that people do at Tesla,” one worker told Insider in 2018. Other Tesla workers have been fired after calling attention to publicly-known issues with Tesla cars’ self-driving features online.
With Tesla’s seemingly anti-worker environment and reportedly virulently exploitative conditions, the problems appear to be mostly contained within the company. But cultivating such an environment within Twitter could have ramifications far beyond the social media company, as the platform has become a vital tool for journalists, politicians, organizers, and other important figures to communicate.
Commentators are noting that Musk will likely turn Twitter into a haven for right-wingers to push their agenda while silencing left-leaning speech, citing the fact that Musk appears to be increasingly conservative, spreading far right conspiracy theories and using his influence on the platform to tell users to vote for Republicans.