The crisis came in response to an ultimatum issued by new owner Elon Musk on Wednesday, demanding that employees sign a pledge to work harder or accept three months’ severance pay by 5 p.m. ET on Thursday.
In an early indication that the number of those refusing to sign was larger than expected, Musk relaxed a return-to-office mandate he issued a week ago, telling staff Thursday they were working remotely should be allowed to work if their managers confirm that they are making “an excellent contribution”.
But it’s too late to stop Twitter from a precarious position, several workers said.
“I know of six critical systems (like the ‘serving tweets’ level of critical) that no longer have engineers,” said a former employee. “There’s not even an emergency crew manning the system anymore. It will keep rolling until it hits something, and then it will stop.”
Workers gave varied estimates of how many employees were still employed at Twitter, ranging from 2,000 to 2,500, versus the roughly 3,500 believed to be left after an initial round of layoffs this month.
Among those reportedly refusing to sign the pledge were half the trust and security policies team, including the majority of those working to detect misinformation, spam, fake accounts and identity theft, according to a source with the team trusted employee.
Meanwhile, several critical engineering teams are said to have been gouged. The team that runs the Gizmoduck service, which runs and stores all the information in user profiles on the site, had disappeared entirely, according to a recent department head, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to account for the departures in detail describe.
Departing employees filled the Twitter hashtag #LoveWhereYouWorked with public goodbyes.
“I thought my soul was completely shattered after the last two weeks. I was so wrong Today was tough”, one tweeted. “There will never be a better culture than the one we had. We know it. Every other tech company knows.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of people saying goodbye,” a current employee said Thursday, referring to internal posts on the company’s Slack channels.
Musk gives employees an ultimatum: Commit to “hardcore” Twitter or accept severance pay
Twitter employees weren’t the only ones saying goodbye Thursday night. As news of the exhausted engineering teams spread to the site, Twitter users began preparing for the worst — exchanging contact information, attempting to download their Twitter data, and posting potential “latest posts” should the site go permanently down .
As of 9 p.m. Eastern time, the top trending on Twitter in the United States was “#RIPTwitter” followed by alternative social network names like Tumblr, Discord and Mastodon as users reflected on life after tweets.
Musk’s return-to-office order had has caused tension since it was released on November 9th. In an email, he informed employees that they were expected back at their desks the next day. At a subsequent staff meeting on Nov. 10, Musk said “exceptional” employees could continue to work from home, as many have done since the pandemic began. But the return-to-office order remained a source of brooding for Twitter employees, who stayed on after Musk’s Nov. 4 layoff and eliminated about half of Twitter’s jobs.
Musk didn’t say why he revised his return to the office. A Twitter official said the number of employees wanting to leave the company had alarmed many Twitter executives, who had set up “war rooms” to determine which employees should be asked to stay.
Terminations and departures have already taken a toll on Twitter’s service, employees said. “The breaks are already happening slowly and piling up,” said one. “If you want to export your tweets, do it now.”
Hate speech and other insults are also likely to increase, staff said. About half of Twitter’s trust and security team declined to sign off on the pledge, an employee said.
The relaxation of the return-to-office order was the latest change in Musk’s decisions as Twitter boss. Musk has also halted his initiative to charge an $8 monthly subscription fee for accounts marked with the Twitter blue tick.
A fake tweet caused Eli Lilly to panic and may have cost Twitter millions
Musk has said he wants to improve the platform’s ability to monetize and focus on ways to increase revenue and reduce costs. Musk, who is also CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is known for his companies’ charging culture and famously described spending nights in a sleeping bag on the factory floor.
On Wednesday, Musk testified in a lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court over a shareholder lawsuit that arose out of a compensation package he received as Tesla CEO. He also defended some of his actions on Twitter, including bringing in Tesla engineers to evaluate Twitter’s technical staff.
Musk said in an email Wednesday outlining the severance offer that Twitter would be more of a tech-centric company going forward. And while design and product management are still important and report to him, he said, “Those who write great code will make up the majority of our team and have the most impact.”
Gerrit De Vynck and Will Oremus contributed to this report.