Elon Musk steps up purge of Twitter engineers who criticise him

In the past 24 hours, an estimated dozen or so employees have been let go after openly rebuking Musk, who has called himself a ‘free speech absolutist’, according to two people familiar with the matter. — Reuters

What began as the firing of two longtime Twitter Inc engineers after they criticised their new boss has turned into a purge, as Elon Musk clamps down on internal and external dissent.

In the past 24 hours, an estimated dozen or so employees have been let go after openly rebuking Musk, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist”, according to two people familiar with the matter. Musk and Twitter haven’t confirmed the firings, but employees have been monitoring the situation through public tweets and private messages.

In one case, Musk announced a firing in a tweet. Engineer Eric Frohnhoefer, who worked on Twitter’s app for the Android mobile operating system, on Nov 13 reposted one of Musk’s tweets with a comment, saying that Musk’s understanding of a technical part of Twitter’s app was “wrong”. Musk replied and asked Frohnhoefer to elaborate, before writing, “Twitter is super slow on Android. What have you done to fix that?”

After attempting to explain his thinking in a number of tweets, Frohnhoefer was asked by another user why he hadn’t shared his feedback with his new boss privately. The engineer, who has worked at Twitter for more than eight years, replied, “maybe he should ask questions privately. Maybe use Slack or email.”

On Monday morning, Musk wrote that Frohnhoefer had been fired. Frohnhoefer retweeted that post, and included a saluting emoji that many employees used when they were laid off earlier this month. Twitter and Frohnhoefer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on his status.

Another engineer, Ben Leib, also lost his job following a public posting critical of Musk. He commented on the same post about load times from Musk, writing, “As the former tech lead for timelines infrastructure at Twitter, I can confidently say that this man has no idea wtf he’s talking about.” Leib, who worked at Twitter for a decade, confirmed to Bloomberg that he was fired on Nov 13.

Sasha Solomon, a software engineer, posted Monday night that she was fired for a critical post. “I said it before and I’ll say it again,” she tweeted. “Kiss my (expletive) elon.” Another engineer, Nick Morgan, tweeted a screenshot of the email sent from Twitter HR that said he was fired after his “recent behaviour violated company policy”.

“My Twitter account was protected at the time, so I can only assume this was for not showing 100% loyalty in Slack,” he tweeted, referring to Twitter’s internal company communications. Morgan and Solomon could not be reached for comment.

Twitter has been thrown into chaos since Musk took over late last month. Many workers remain upset that Musk fired half of the company’s 7,000-plus employees, including most of the senior managers, within about a week of his US$44bil buyout.

The billionaire also rapidly changed the corporate culture. While it wasn’t previously routine for employees to challenge leadership publicly at Twitter, workers often spoke out on internal Slack channels and by email before Musk showed up, sometimes posting criticism or concerns to the entire company.

Musk’s changes have led to a lack of communication internally in terms of who is in charge and what the company’s priorities are, current and former staffers say.

The moves have also led to concerns that San Francisco-based Twitter is vulnerable to product breakdowns or technical outages. On Nov 14, Twitter implemented another coding freeze, halting product updates to the app, and employees say they weren’t given a clear reason why.

Part of Musk’s motivation for purchasing Twitter was to loosen content restrictions, and make it a destination for “free speech” where people can say “outrageous” things. So far, employees say, that sentiment doesn’t extend to his corporate policies. – Bloomberg

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