Twitter workers reportedly quit by the hundreds Thursday after refusing to agree to billionaire CEO Elon Musk's demand that they work longer hours as part of his self-described "extremely hardcore" plan to overhaul the social media platform.
As a result, the company that Musk purchased for $44 billion just weeks ago is in chaos as the mass exodus of employees and the billionaire's earlier decision to fire roughly half of Twitter's workforce are threatening basic, day-to-day operations at the platform used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
"We are witnessing the real-time destruction of one of the world's most powerful communication systems."
"It's no coincidence that a notorious union-buster and flagrant violator of labor law is effectively running one of the most viable tools we have for union organizing into the ground," responded the AFL-CIO as news reports detailed the internal turmoil at the company as Musk and his advisers scrambled to stop key employees from quitting.
Citing people familiar with the rapidly deteriorating situation inside Twitter, The Washington Post reported that "the number of engineers tending to multiple critical systems had been reduced to two, one, or even zero."
"In an early sign that the number of those declining to sign was greater than anticipated, Musk eased off a return-to-office mandate he had issued a week ago, telling employees Thursday they would be allowed to work remotely if their managers assert they are making 'an excellent contribution,'" the Post added. "But it was too late to keep Twitter from a precarious position, several workers said."
One worker told the newspaper that "there is no longer even a skeleton crew manning the system," meaning the platform "will continue to coast until it runs into something, and then it will stop."
Corporate advertisers have also been rushing toward the exits, pushed by Musk's hasty revamp of the verification process—which enabled some embarrassing and revealing spoofs of large companies such as the pharma giant Eli Lilly and the weapons maker Lockheed Martin.
The apparently dire situation, brought on by Musk's haphazard and dictatorial management decisions, sparked a cascade of "RIP Twitter" posts on the platform as users—including journalists, lawmakers, prominent public figures, and ordinary people—wondered about the platform's immediate and long-term future.
"As a lot of freelancers have been saying, if Twitter goes down, our livelihoods suffer," tweeted labor journalist Kim Kelly. "Twitter is where I share my work, promote my book, connect with editors, sources, other journalists, workers, activists, and organizers. We all know no corporate media outlet is gonna hire me."
"One anti-worker, union-busting, sniveling, sack o' shit billionaire is casually torpedoing the livelihoods of thousands of precarious media workers in the name of 'free speech,'" Kelly wrote. "The media elite WILL BE FINE. Their platforms are safe. It's the rest of us who'll be hung out to dry."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has 13.5 million Twitter followers, connected the possible collapse of the platform to sky-high income and wealth inequality and policymakers' refusal to tackle it via higher taxes on billionaires like Musk.
"If only we had taxed the rich," the New York Democrat wrote, "maybe none of this would have happened."
Musk had given Twitter employees until 5:00 pm ET Thursday to accept his condition of longer work hours or leave the company and receive three months of severance pay. Hundreds of employees, including some in charge of important operations, appear to have chosen the latter.
"We are witnessing the real-time destruction of one of the world's most powerful communication systems," said Nicole Gill, co-founder and executive director of Accountable Tech, an advocacy group. "Elon Musk is an erratic billionaire who is dangerously unqualified to run this platform."
"Unless and until Musk can robustly enforce Twitter's existing community standards," Gill continued, "the platform is not safe for users or advertisers. Elon's 'hellscape' is already here."
The New York Times reported late Thursday that Musk and his top advisers "held meetings with some Twitter workers whom they deemed 'critical' to stop them from leaving" and "sent out confusing messages about the company's remote work policy, appearing to soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before warning their managers."
"Twitter later announced via email that it would close 'our office buildings' and disable employee badge access until Monday," the Times noted.
According to The Verge, "Multiple 'critical' teams inside Twitter have now either completely or near-completely resigned."
"That includes Twitter's traffic and front-end teams that route engineering requests to the correct back-end services," the outlet reported. "The team that maintains Twitter's core system libraries that every engineer at the company uses is also gone. 'You cannot run Twitter without this team,' a departing employee said."
Musk, meanwhile, has continued making bizarre and flippant posts on the platform.
Jessica González, CEO of the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement Friday that "Musk has swiftly decimated Twitter's ability to maintain the platform's integrity, health, and safety."
"His reckless actions, including sacking most of his staff and compelling others to leave, have caused an explosion of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and fraud on the site," said González. "If there is one lesson that all social media platforms must take away from this debacle, it's that without protecting users from hate and lies, you have no company at all. Invest in the health and integrity of your platforms or risk extinction."
"Millions of people around the world rely on Twitter to challenge oppressive regimes, shed light on abuse and organize for justice," González added. "Minority groups that traditional media gatekeepers have kept from mainstream audiences have used Twitter to organize for a better world. That's why we'll continue to fight for a better Twitter, even as we aspire toward a non-exploitative platform that puts the public good over the hate-and-lie-for-profit model that animates every major social-media company."