WSJ US BusinessElon Musk Talks Staffing, Free Speech in Twitter Employee Meeting

June 16, 20220
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Elon Musk, speaking via a smartphone that he appeared to be holding in front of him, told Twitter Inc. TWTR -1.66% employees that he wants to dramatically increase the platform’s users and didn’t rule out layoffs as he works to complete his planned $44 billion takeover.

The billionaire serial entrepreneur also outlined his thoughts on free speech and discussed the possibility of alien life, according to employees who participated in the meeting Thursday. His appearance during the wide-ranging, roughly 45-minute virtual gathering marked another twist in what has been an unusual takeover bid.

Mr. Musk’s first direct interaction with the social-media company’s rank-and-file employees followed weeks in which he publicly criticized Twitter, belittled its top executives and threatened to walk away from the deal. Since agreeing to the acquisition in April, he has said Twitter is too reliant on advertising, questioned its estimated tally of fake and spam accounts and tweeted a poop emoji at Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal.

Mr. Agrawal introduced the Tesla Inc. CEO at the meeting Thursday, according to the people who attended. Mr. Musk was then fed questions by Leslie Berland, Twitter’s chief marketing officer, that employees had submitted.

Regarding layoffs, Mr. Musk said anyone who is a significant contributor shouldn’t have anything to worry about, according to people who viewed the meeting. “Right now, costs exceed revenue,” he said, according to the people. “That’s not a great situation.”

One employee tweeted: “still not sure if I need to start packing my bags.”

Like other companies, Twitter has taken steps recently to rein in costs, including issuing a hiring freeze, rescinding some job offers and asking employees to curtail business travel and spending. As part of the cuts, the company said it also canceled a companywide trip to Disneyland set for January.

Elon Musk has cultivated close ties with Beijing to build Tesla’s business in China. Now that he is buying Twitter and focusing on free speech, WSJ looks at how China has used the social-media platform to promote its views, and why that’s raising concerns. Photo Illustration: Sharon Shi

When asked about what he would consider successful for Twitter five to 10 years from now, Mr. Musk said a substantial increase in daily active users to over a billion from around 229 million today. He also said during the meeting that Twitter should be entertaining, like TikTok, and that he admired the Chinese app WeChat, which is used heavily in China for a range of purposes including e-commerce and social networking.

Mr. Musk said that he learns much from what he reads on Twitter and that it is the best way to communicate with a lot of people simultaneously, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Asked about his stance on free speech, Mr. Musk drew a distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of reach, according to attendees. He said that meant people should be allowed to say pretty outrageous things within the law but didn’t necessarily deserve to have their tweets amplified and spread virally across Twitter.

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On whether he would become CEO of the social-media company, Mr. Musk said he isn’t hung up on titles. He went on to discuss his vision to extend the scope, scale and lifespan of civilization as we know it, according to a person who viewed the meeting.

Mr. Musk also briefly touched on the prospects of alien life. “I’ve seen no actual evidence for aliens…yet,” he told employees, people who attended the meeting said.

Ms. Berland raised the subject of remote work, which Mr. Musk has criticized on Twitter. About 1,500 of Twitter’s employees work remotely, she said in the meeting. Twitter previously announced a plan to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely if it helped them be more productive.

Mr. Musk responded that the work of building cars at electric-vehicle maker Tesla, where he is chief executive, can’t be done remotely.

“If someone can only work remotely, and they’re exceptional, it wouldn’t make sense to fire them,” he said, according to the people who viewed the meeting. “Definitely not in favor of things that are mad.” He added that his bias is strongly for working in person but that managers can decide which of their employees can work remotely, as is the practice at Tesla.

Soon after Mr. Musk’s comments, some employees publicly tweeted jokes and memes about how to convey that they were exceptional workers. One employee tweeted: “adding exceptional contributor to my CV.”

In response to a question about how employees and Mr. Musk can earn each other’s trust, Mr. Musk said, “Trust is as trust does. I tend to be extremely literal in what I say.”

Twitter is aiming to schedule a shareholder vote on the takeover deal later this summer and close it soon thereafter, barring unforeseen developments. Mr. Musk said he would return for another question-and-answer session, attendees said.

Manu Cornet, an engineer at Twitter, poked fun at the all-hands meeting with a cartoon he tweeted Thursday, suggesting that details of the session would be leaked.

Mr. Musk has kept Twitter employees and Wall Street on edge as to whether he will follow through with the transaction. Last week, he threatened to terminate it in a letter accusing the company of not complying with his request for data. Twitter said at the time that it was continuing to share information with Mr. Musk and that it planned to enforce the merger agreement.

Mr. Musk agreed to pay $54.20 a share for Twitter. The company’s share price has since fallen amid broader market declines, closing Thursday at $37.36.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com and Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

Elon Musk and Twitter

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