Death is in the air on Twitter.
On the platform Thursday evening, where #RIPTwitter was trending globally, users wrote what they feared would be their last posts, bidding apprehensive goodbyes and listing the other (more stable) social media platforms where can still be found.
They were reacting to the terrible news coming from Twitter. The social media company’s remaining employees on Friday appeared to reject owner Elon Musk’s ultimatum on Thursday to work “extremely hard,” leaving the communications platform in total disarray and raising serious questions about how much longer it will survive.
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily summary explaining the evolution of the media landscape here.
The death of Twitter would have serious consequences, given how integral the platform is to global communications. The platform has often been compared to a digital town square. World leaders use Twitter to communicate, journalists use Twitter to gather news, dissidents in repressive countries use Twitter to organize, celebrities and big brands use Twitter to make important announcements, and the public often uses Twitter to monitor – all in real time.
If the platform were to die or become unusable due to instability issues, no single space would immediately replace it, and communications could fracture across multiple social networking websites, causing a seismic disruption and slowing of information flow. .
Inside the company’s Slack, there was effectively a mass resignation after Musk’s 5pm deadline for employees to come to a decision was passed. Hundreds of employees reportedly quit, accepting Musk’s offer to quit in exchange for three months of severance.
Employees flooded the “#social-watercooler” feed with the greeting emoji, indicating that they had chosen not to sign Musk’s pledge. A similar series of events unfolded in the Slack channel earlier this month, as Musk cut roughly 50 percent of the company’s 7,500-person workforce.
A former Twitter executive, who recently left the company, described the situation as a “mass exodus.” Asked about the situation, the former executive said, “Elon is finding that it can’t bully top talent. They have a lot of options and they won’t put up with his antics.”
“They’re going to fight just to keep the lights on,” the former executive added.
That assessment was shared universally by the half-dozen current and former employees Thursday. It was bad enough after Musk executed mass layoffs at the company earlier this month. So bad that Twitter asked some of the people it let go to come back a few days later. The state of play has only gotten worse since then.
In fact, Twitter management was in panic mode hours before the deadline, people familiar with the matter said, explaining that senior leaders were “scrambling” to convince talent to stay in the company
Musk himself finally seemed to realize the dire situation, sending an email to all staff relaxing his hitherto uncompromising anti-remote work stance. “Regarding remote work, all that is required for approval is that your manager takes responsibility for making sure you make an excellent contribution,” Musk said in the email.
It didn’t seem to do very well.
Two employees who had decided to reject Musk’s ultimatum on Thursday were very clear about why they were doing so. “I don’t want to stick around to build a product that’s poisoned inside and out,” said one, then added that he felt good about making a decision “in line with what I stand for.”
One recently fired employee who stays in touch with former co-workers said, “People don’t want to sacrifice their mental health and family life to make the richest man in the world richer.”
And Twitter appeared to take the mess into its own hands on Thursday evening, sending an email to staff notifying them that it has once again closed all of its offices and suspended employee badge access, presumably to protect its systems and data.
Twitter’s already decimated communications department did not respond to requests for comment. But Musk acknowledged the situation in a tweet.
“How do you make a small fortune on social media?” Musk asked. “Start with a big one.”