“We regret to inform you that your employment is terminated effective immediately,” read an email shared with Rolling Stone by a former employee who pushed back against Musk. “Your recent behavior has violated company policy.” The rest of the email explains that the operations team will soon reach out with instructions for off-boarding, and is signed, simply, “Twitter.”
The firings are just the latest wave of turmoil to hit the tech giant since Musk took it private weeks ago in a $44 billion deal and rapidly instigated a host of changes to the platform. Even as he fired most of the C-suite, laid off thousands of other employees, and drove remaining leadership to resign, he yukked it up on the app as always, rubbing elbows with far-right conspiracy theorists and posting a record number of rolling-laughing emojis in response to the anarchy unleashed.
But it seems the right to tweet candidly is not extended to Musk’s staff. Recently, several employees have terminated for publicly contradicting his posts about the nuts and bolts of the social network. At least two were evidently ousted for their reactions to a complaint he had about slow loading times for the app. Both said that he had fundamentally misrepresented how Twitter’s technology works.
Sasha Solomon, a software engineer and co-Tech Lead of the Core API Platform Team, tweeted that she was fired for quoting Musk’s comment and saying he doesn’t know “what the fuck [our infrastructure] does.” She added, “kiss my ass elon.”
In the case of Android developer Eric Frohnhoefer, who categorically declared Musk “wrong” about the cause of the alleged slow loading times, the CEO himself tweeted, “He’s fired.” Musk later deleted that tweet, though Frohnhoefer was indeed fired, without any formal communications from Twitter — instead, he was locked out of his company computer. In a subsequent interview with Forbes, he called Musk’s team “a bunch of cowards” for how they had handled the situation.
And the firings continued. London-based engineer Nick Robinson found himself out of a job after quote-tweeting Musk’s announcement about turning off Twitter microservices to say that he was “embarrassing” himself.
One recently dismissed employee — who wished to remain anonymous to avoid undermining potential wrongful termination claims — tells Rolling Stone that, as far as he can tell, “a bunch of people” were sacked not for tweets but internal Slack messages that challenged or mocked Musk’s ideas. Some 20 people were targeted for such private comments, according to Platformer.
“In the before times we had open lines of communication between employees and leadership,” he says. “Free to voice our opinions and dissent. That seems to be gone now, but I don’t know many people who actually want to stay. Almost every person I know (there are some exceptions) is basically biding their time until they can jump ship.”
This employee, too, says Musk is incorrect in his theory about slow loading times for the Twitter app, and believes he misinterpreted something he saw or heard “without understanding the context.”
Others who were shown the door for behavior that “violated company policy” were not altogether certain where they had crossed a line with Musk. Whatever the cause, though, many demonstrated solidarity on Twitter by sharing the news and each other’s posts with the saluting emoji — which had been Frohnhoefer’s response to Musk tweeting that he was fired.
This cull is further diminishing Twitter’s already threadbare teams, says the employee who spoke with Rolling Stone. “There’s critical infrastructure teams that are down from like mid-teen numbers of people to two or three,” he says. “And their oncall (potentially get paged 24/7, need your computer with you at all times) rotations went from like one week every four months to, like, every other week.”
The brain drain, he believes, will only become more apparent. “There’s a lot of stuff no one understands or knows already,” he says. “And it’s only been a few weeks.” He himself held a unique position that is now vacant, leaving “no experts, people who can fix bugs, teach the class, or add features” on the critical element of the app he maintained by himself.
“It’s only a matter of time before things break in a way that the folks who are left can’t fix quickly or at all, and the fail whale comes back with a vengeance,” he adds, referring to the image of a whale that appears for users when Twitter is experiencing technical difficulties or undergoing maintenance — once a sight so common it served as a meme expressing the unreliability of the site.
Musk, however, has affected his usual nonchalance, offering a blithe, sarcastic apology for “firing these geniuses,” predicting that their “immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.” He also posted in the replies of the notorious far-right account “Libs of TikTok,” which has been suspended from the platform five times for hateful conduct and now has a blue check thanks to Musk’s paid verification system, to suggest that Sasha Solomon has a “tragic case of adult onset Tourette’s.” Solomon locked her profile soon afterward.
Additionally, Musk took the time for a photo-op with two pranksters who in late October posed as laid-off Twitter employees named Rahul Ligma and Daniel Johnson — the surnames combine for a lewd pun — and fooled various media outlets into reporting they were among the first let go in the takeover. Sharing the group picture, Musk repeated the gag, joking that he had re-hired the pair.
The supreme irony, of course, is that Musk has likely done far more damage to his investment with irresponsible tweeting than any engineer ever could. For a guy who loves to crow about “free speech” and bragged that “Comedy is now legal on Twitter,” he’s rather unwilling to tolerate dissent or take a joke. If, in the end, he’s only left with staffers who don’t call out his shitposts for what they are, he wouldn’t be the first businessman undone by a preference for sycophants.