Twitter is facing threats to its continued survival, in the immediate aftermath of a fresh wave of employee resignations that came as the result of new "hardcore" demands placed on employees by Elon Musk, Twitter’s newfound owner and CEO.
Hundreds of employees, at the least, are understood to have called Musk’s bluff and refused to commit to the new conditions, resigning from the company in a united rejection of Musk's Twitter 2.0 vision, calling the existence of the platform into question.
Employees had been given a deadline of 5pm on Thursday 17 November to agree to demands alluded to in a company-wide communication. As reported by The Washington Post, Musk had laid out two choices: buy into ‘Twitter 2.0’, or receive three months of severance pay and begin looking for a new job.
The new conditions involved changing the company culture "to be extremely hardcore" and shifting to longer work hours at a higher intensity, Musk said.
A currently unknown number of the approximately 3,700 employees left at Twitter stayed on to an uncertain future.
In an email shared by the BBC, Twitter told employees that it is “temporarily closing our office buildings and all badge access will be suspended”. Offices are set to reopen on Monday, 21 November.
Zoë Schiffer, managing editor at Platformer, tweeted that insiders suggested the move to shut offices was prompted by fear of internal sabotage by exiting employees, which if true speaks to a rapid shift in company culture to one of fear and suspicion.
It’s not yet clear what company employees will return to then, but there is no guarantee that it will resemble the one they left on Thursday. Musk cannot now unring the bell of his heightened demands, which paint working at Twitter as a demanding and unstable environment unlikely to attract new tech talent to the same degree.
If Twitter survives the upheaval - and this isn’t a certainty - the company may no longer be able to promise an uninterrupted, stable, or consistently-moderated service. Alex Heath from The Verge claimed that employees who had worked in Twitter’s “command centre”, described as essential to Twitter’s everyday operations, have resigned, and if true, this illustrates the ideology of Musk's changes coming to a head with the reality of running a platform like Twitter.
If the former can't sustain the latter, the site won't so much change to reflect Musk's desires as combust under his watch, as critical systems no longer sustained by employees fail.
Reuters cited an inside source who said that the employee version of the Twitter app was experiencing a noticeable slowdown on Thursday evening, and that the public version would soon experience significant difficulties.
Downdetector, a website run by internet performance monitoring firm Ookla, tracked a large increase in Twitter reports coinciding with the end of the working day on 17 November. Incidents more than quadrupled, from fewer than 50 per hour throughout the day to a peak of almost 600 over the course of one hour in the late evening.
What rises up in Twitter's place, or remains amidst the ashes, remains to be seen. But under the new management, and the uncertainty that brings, companies, governments, and may wonder if, after all the changes, Twitter is still the same platform they signed up for.
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Even if moderation on the platform isn't radically changed, and Musk has continued to stress that it will be, it's difficult to shake the feeling that the site is now populated by users anticipating the collapse of the servers or a possible move behind a paywall any minute.
“For the employees who are left behind, the workplace and working culture at Twitter will have already changed forever,” said Kevin Poulter, employment lawyer at Freeths to IT Pro.
“Fewer employees, greater demands and an increasingly regulatory framework will invite fear, failure and inevitable frustration. With the world personally and socially invested in the success of Twitter, this is difficult to watch.”
Musk batted away concerns in a tweet stating that “The best people are staying, so I’m not super worried”. But, beneath the apparent indifference, actions taken by Twitter in the hours before the deadline speaks to an existential crisis occurring at the top levels of the firm.
Can Twitter sustain a ‘hardcore’ work culture?
Since Musk's 27 October takeover of Twitter, the controversial CEO has already made a number of questionable moves that have raised concerns about his ability to lead the company.
Musk's most-criticised steps include suggesting the company could go bankrupt, firing exactly half of all employees, and introducing paid verification which led to widespread imposters plaguing the platform. These caused reputational damage to the likes of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly which had billions wiped from its stock market value.
Such an uncertain environment is not likely to be met well by employees, and the changes brought about by ‘Twitter 2.0’ could even prompt legal action in some territories like the UK.
“Across Europe, employees are protected by the European Working Time Directive, which was adopted by European states, including the UK, in 1998 and entrenched in national law,” said Poulter.
“These regulations prevent employers from compelling employees to work long and excessive hours (with a standard maximum working week of 48 hours and a full day off each week), especially in high-intensity environments. Employees will be protected against suffering any detriment if they assert their legal rights to breaks and employers can face criminal prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive, with sanctions including fines and prison time.
“Aside from working time, the invitation to resign which employees appear to have been offered could result in a number of constructive unfair dismissal claims in the UK as employees feel forced to leave for fear of the agreed terms of their employment being breached.
“Indeed, being locked out of the workplace and prevented from working could be sufficient reason to believe your employment has been unilaterally terminated. Employees with over two years’ employment have unfair dismissal rights and protections against dismissal where there are no reasonable grounds for such action. Before resigning, employees are encouraged to seek professional legal advice and to consider the options available to them.”
Last week, in leaked audio obtained by ABC News, Musk was heard telling employees “if you can show up at an office and you do not show up at the office: resignation accepted. End of story".
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Rory Bathgate is Features and Multimedia Editor at ITPro, overseeing all in-depth content and case studies. He can also be found co-hosting the ITPro Podcast with Jane McCallion, swapping a keyboard for a microphone to discuss the latest learnings with thought leaders from across the tech sector.
In his free time, Rory enjoys photography, video editing, and good science fiction. After graduating from the University of Kent with a BA in English and American Literature, Rory undertook an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. He joined ITPro in 2022 as a graduate, following four years in student journalism. You can contact Rory at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.