Can Twitter emerge from the chaos?

The numbers are hard to believe. On October 28, on Elon Musk’s first day at the head of Twitter, the blue bird social network had 7,400 employees worldwide and 5,500 contractors (the latter largely responsible for the moderation). Monday, November 21, there were only 1,000 employees out of 7,400, and 1,100 contractors out of 5,500. That is a purge of 6,400 people on the employee side -86% of the workforce-, and 4,400 people on the contract side (80%). All in just 23 days. A real disaster.

Read alsoHow Elon Musk is tipping Twitter and the economy into the post-truth era

Three waves of layoffs in three weeks

To reduce the payroll, Elon Musk went about it in three stages. First, a huge social plan with an ax concerning 50% of the workforce of the company, must 3,700 people, the first week of November. The following week, the new boss attacked contract workers, announcing the dismissal of 80% of them, mainly in content moderation, even though Twitter was considered before the takeover as one of the most popular social networks. less effective on the subject. Finally, during the third week of November, Elon Musk attacked the survivors of the first social plan by issuing an ultimatum to the 3,700 remaining employees: work “ thoroughly, unconditionally or take the door.

According to Fortune magazine, 75% of the remaining people chose to leave at that time. Add to these waves of departure a few hundred dismissals scattered over the month – especially employees and managers who openly or in internal software criticized the management of Elon Musk – and Twitter would today only have 1,000 employees and 1,100 contract workers, i.e. 2,200 in all, against 12,900 twenty-three days earlier!

In fact, we will remember from the first month of Elon Musk four “accomplishments”, each more worrying than the other: the butchery on the payroll; the spectacular flop of the $8 per month Twitter Blue subscription, launched and then shelved indefinitely because of numerous abuses; the break in assumed neutrality when Elon Musk called on his 118 million followers to vote Republican in the midterm elections in early November, confirming fears about his political agenda; and the reinstatement of Donald Trump following a simple poll, even though the former president was banned from all major social networks last year because of his active role in encouraging the Capitol riots of January 6, 2021, which caused six deaths.

Read alsoCan the Musk method lead Twitter to bankruptcy?

Brutality and velocity, the Musk method in action

These first weeks give a fairly clear overview of Elon Musk’s management method and style: to wipe the slate clean of the old Twitter – whose corporate culture he hated – to rebuild from what remains. . Thus, after having bluntly fired half of the workforce and fired all those who dared to criticize him, the ultimatum given to the remaining sounds like a new purge, by quality this time, by getting rid of all those who had survived until then. but who do not share its values.

Problem: the purge is so violent that there is not much left. While Twitter certainly had some “fat” to cut from its workforce before Musk, it seems unlikely that the company employed 10,800 too many people. Which does not fail to question Twitter’s ability to operate normally for its users, in a secure manner, and to meet its legal obligations for content moderation.

But never mind the violence and danger the Musk method creates for the company’s short-term survival. Elon Musk is on a cultural crusade against the old Twitter. ” I can tell you what works at Tesla: being physically present in the office and giving your all »; said the entrepreneur during a Spaces, a chat room on the social network. The purge therefore also involves the destruction of Twitter’s corporate culture. The new boss considers it too liberal with its generalized teleworking, its typical Silicon Valley progressiveness, and its human resources policy based on benevolence and benefits for employees such as the free and all-you-can-eat canteen. Upon his arrival, Elon Musk therefore applied to Twitter what already works in his other companies: the face-to-face every day of the week with exceptions. The billionaire also ended free meals in an effort to optimize costs.

Read alsoNew purge at Twitter: does Elon Musk want to kill the social network?

Sketches of a vague and incoherent project

This method combining speed and brutality, with little consideration for the concrete consequences of its decisions, also applies to business. Elon Musk has clearly announces the color : “ Please note that Twitter is going to do a lot of stupid things in the next few months. We’ll keep what works and change what doesn’t “, he said in a tweet.

The too rapid launch of Twitter Blue, even though its excesses were not only predictable but announced, inaugurates the list of these stupidities. But does this mean that Elon Musk has no plans? Not so fast. If he seems to spend a lot of time every day reading and responding to tweets, the entrepreneur has also announced in recent weeks, lost in the ocean of his provocations and trolls of all kinds, many ideas that outline the future social network developments.

Elon Musk has thus promised the imminent arrival of payment, the encryption of private messages, the remuneration of content creators (to compete with platforms like Onlyfans?) or even the strengthening of the fight against child pornography. It is difficult to distinguish the overall coherence: the entrepreneur constantly experiments, explores his intuitions that no one questions – he has abolished the board of directors – and we will see later. Forced to buy Twitter at an exorbitant price of 44 billion dollars after trying for months to cancel the sale, Musk even has fun keeping his real intentions unclear: does he really want to save Twitter or destroy ?

So here he is suggesting, with a skull emoji paired with a robot emoji, that general task automation will replace laid-off workers. Another day he posts a same in which he stages himself celebrating the death of Twitter at his grave. The entrepreneur seems to make fun of the “massive” leak – it’s his own word – of advertisers, even though advertising represents 90% of the social network’s income. As if the possibility of Twitter filing for bankruptcy – a scarecrow he also waved at the start of the month – was part of the game. Since October 28, when he arrived at the premises with a sink (sink in English ) in the arms, Musk is also playing with the double meaning of the word, which is also a verb that can be translated as “empty” – which was the harbinger of the purge of human resources -, but also “to sink “.

As a good agitator, Elon Musk overplays confidence in his vision, but does not concretely express any growth path for Twitter beyond making enormous operating costs. Which takes us back several months, when Musk wanted to drop the takeover but Twitter seemed to have him stuck with a rock solid contract. Musk then publicly mocked the previous leadership by multiplying enigmatic tweets suggesting that all this was part of his vast plan, the genius of which was not accessible to ordinary mortals. Except that in the end, Elon Musk did not manage to get out of the deal – the contract really committed him, Twitter was right – or to lower the price by 44 billion dollars. On the other hand, he damaged the reputation of Twitter and his own. There is no doubt that the boss of Tesla and SpaceX is an extraordinary entrepreneur with brilliant intuitions – he has revived the electric vehicle sector and revolutionized the space industry – but since April, he has not presented any concrete and viable economic project for the social network .

Read also: Payment on Twitter: Elon Musk takes the first step towards his “universal app”

The next decisive weeks for Twitter

The possibility that Elon Musk is using Twitter to further the interests of his other companies – including Tesla – and to advance the political agenda of thealternative right -the most radical fringe of the Republicans-, cannot be ruled out. Since he displayed pro-Russian and Chinese positions in the context of their respective conflicts with Ukraine and Taiwan, the entrepreneur has warmed up his relations – somewhat strained since his Starlink satellites are helping Ukraine – with the leaders of these two strategic markets, particularly China.

In the meantime, Tesla is suffering from Elon Musk’s antics with Twitter. Its investors are worried about the dispersion of their managing director and are frightened by his erratic attitude. Especially since the macroeconomic context penalizes all tech stocks on the stock market. Tesla shares thus went from 308 dollars on September 20 to… 168 dollars on November 22.

The next few weeks will be decisive in judging Elon Musk’s project and Twitter’s ability to cope with the drastic changes imposed by its new owner. With 6,440 fewer employees and 4,400 contractors, will the social network continue to operate normally and securely? How will regulators and advertisers react?