SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk is rapidly transforming Twitter, throwing out old strategies, taking aim at its trademark perks and imposing mass layoffs that are driving advertisers away.

Those changes helped trigger a coalition of civil rights and activist groups who met with Musk earlier in the week – including the NAACP – on Friday to call on brands to suspend advertising on Twitter following the layoffs.

Musk Twitter

Elon Musk Patrick Pleul/Pool via AP, File

Already, General Motors and Volkswagen Group have said they are pausing advertising. The fallout is expected to continue.

On Friday, Musk tweeted that Twitter has experienced a massive drop in revenue because of activists pressuring advertisers. He reiterated that nothing has changed with the company’s moderation policies – or how it polices the platform for rule-breaking content.

“Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America,” he tweeted.

Current and newly former employees say Musk has instilled a culture of fear in his new company, as he quickly established he will be a stiff and efficiency-focused leader, aiming to unlock Twitter’s moneymaking potential once and for all. Musk has announced he wants to charge for blue check marks and employees are working on a new plan for paywalled videos. Advertisers are getting cold feet, and many are worried about the potential consequences for the midterms.


Musk is under extreme financial pressure stemming from the acquisition of a site he has admitted to overpaying for. Analysts have placed its value closer to $25 billion, well below the $44 billion price tag footed by Musk and his investors. He is expected to owe $1 billion in annual interest payments alone, after taking out a large loan to help pay for it.

His first round of layoffs, which struck across the workforce, impacted teams including sales, engineering and product, and trust and safety and legal. In all, around half the staff was expected to be cut, casualties of Musk’s debt-financed purchase of the site, which is expected to saddle the company with bills the new CEO will face pressure to quickly address.

Twitter’s communications staff, which handles the company’s public relations and media – in addition to messaging to staff – was gutted to consist of just two people, according to a person with knowledge of the cuts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Meanwhile, employees in the ad sales department initially appeared to have experienced fewer cuts, according to one employee who spoke on the same condition and based their assessment on conversations with other workers. Twitter makes most of its money through selling advertising space.

“It would have made no sense to fire revenue-generating employees,” the person said.

It was an early signal of Musk’s priorities in his new company.


Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment about the layoffs.

Speaking at the annual Baron Investment Conference in New York Friday, Musk laid out plans to improve Twitter’s service, including setting different user experiences – using the analogy of an “easy listening smooth jazz” vibe to “heavy metal thrash.”

“You should be able to pick your preference and decide if you want sort of full contact battle or do you want, like, ‘no I just want to look at puppies and flowers and nice landscapes and stuff,’ ” he said.

Musk also addressed growing concerns about content moderation.

“We’re also going to obviously make Twitter just a way better system,” he said. “I mean it stands to reason that if a social media company is not taking steps to make it positive to be on that social platform then people won’t come or they’ll leave.”

Musk, who has expressed a desire for free speech on the platform, said hate speech such as racism and antisemitism would drive people away, aside from being inherently wrong, and that Twitter should be taking steps to make itself a positive place to spend time.


The layoffs, which were announced Thursday night, set the tone for how Musk, a notoriously hard-charging boss known for tough work environments, will be expected to run the company. His tenure began last week with the firing of top executives and the turmoil continued Friday with the job cuts. That all came before Musk had found the time to formally introduce himself as the new boss, either via email or a town hall, one of which was canceled earlier this week.

“We acknowledge this is an incredibly challenging experience to go through, whether or not you are impacted,” a Thursday night email said, the first known companywide acknowledgment of the new regime. It was signed, “Twitter.”

Workers had been told they would receive an email by 9 a.m. Pacific time, with the subject line reading: “Your Role at Twitter.” If they were let go, a notification would go to their personal emails. If they were retained, they’d receive a ping in their work inboxes.

One laid-off worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that job losses or not, employees simply wanted to learn their fate.

This version of the company “isn’t what we all signed up for,” the person said. The person described the new environment as “cruel, toxic, padding Elon’s debt pockets.”

The fallout was swift. A coalition of more than 50 civil rights groups urged top advertisers to suspend their marketing spending on Twitter in protest of new Musk’s decision to let go of scores of employees, arguing the company will be less equipped to police its platform.


The coalition included the NAACP, whose president and CEO Derrick Johnson said he met with Elon Musk on Tuesday.

“When we met with Elon Musk, he made commitments that gave us cautious optimism, but until actions are taken to make Twitter a safe space, corporations cannot in good conscience put their money behind Twitter,” Johnson said in a statement. “Twitter must earn its advertisers by creating a platform that safeguards our democracy and rids itself of any content or account that spews hate and disinformation.”

General Motors spokeswoman Maria Raynal said in a statement that the company is engaging with Twitter to better understand its new direction.

“As is normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising,” she added. “It’s important for us to ensure our advertising strategies and data can be safely managed by a platform owned by a competitor.”

Volkswagen Group said in a statement that it’s closely monitoring the situation.

The call for a boycott from the groups follows a tumultuous start for the relationship between the new owner of Twitter and the civil rights groups, who have long been concerned about Musk’s early promises to ease content moderation practices and reinstate former president Donald Trump. The organizations included social justice groups and anti-Big-Tech groups such as Color of Change, Free Press and the Anti-Defamation League among others.


They said Friday during a call with reporters that they were escalating a previous request for advertisers to consider backing out if Musk scales back the company’s content moderation practices.

Throughout the week, employees described an anxious wait for the final word on their job status as an information vacuum took hold over the company of 7,500.

Workers said their goodbyes to one another on Thursday, and some attempted to make their documentation easily retrievable for the staff left to run Twitter in their absence.


Gerrit De Vynck and Heather Kelly contributed to this report.

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