Linda Yaccarino shares her biggest moment of imposter syndrome from her last year running Elon Musk’s X

Beside CEO colleagues Chew (left) and Zuckerberg (right), Yaccarino appeared before US Congress to testify on child grooming and exploitation on social media sites. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in her career, she said this week. — Getty Images/Fortune/The New York Times

It was before the US Senate that X CEO Linda Yaccarino joined bosses from the likes of Meta and TikTok to answer for how they would better protect children from sexual exploitation on their platforms.

Had Yaccarino, who had been in the top job at the Elon Musk-owned platform for half a year, known those few hours would be such a pivotal moment in her career, she might have volunteered to appear from the outset like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew – rather than be compelled through a subpoena.

“That was one of the most profound experiences of my life that taught me a lot of things,” Yaccarino said on Monday, nearly six months after ultimately agreeing to testify as a witness.

Speaking in Cannes, where the advertising world's version of the Oscars are being held this week, Yaccarino revealed the experience on Capitol Hill helped her shed any nagging feeling she hadn’t earned the job as head of X and did not belong there, a feeling commonly known as imposter syndrome.

Going into the hearings, Yaccarino said, she had only been at the company six months and therefore lacked what she called the "depth of knowledge" and tenure enjoyed by her four male counterparts sitting beside her on the panel.

“I’m not an engineer, I’m not a founder, and my natural kind of career-long upbringing was not in tech and social media,” she said in a conversation with Shelley Zalis, founder and CEO of the Female Quotient. “And by the way, (I was) the only woman.”

Yaccarino said she had been keen to share the work undertaken by X on her watch to better protect children on the platform, but wanted to do so with confidence. What helped was the feeling of encouragement and support she received along with trusting the process when it came to preparing, along with believing in her ability to communicate and articulate what X had been doing – with the all important help of data.

“That fuelled me and fuelled my confidence to be successful that day,” said Yaccarino, who has faced criticism she’s a puppet CEO, or has been set up by Musk to take the fall should the company fail.

When asked by Zalis to highlight an example or two of the relationship she enjoys with Musk, Yaccarino cited the day the entrepreneur announced in May that he had hired a female CEO to run Twitter.

“I think that was the best message I ever got of all time,” she added.

The everything app that champions free speech

At the time, Yaccarino and Musk had been discussing his vision of moving away from Twitter as a 140-character messaging service. Instead, it would pivot toward a video-first platform offering audio calls and – soon – online payments, all under the banner of championing free speech.

“The scope of our ambition and the pace of the innovation at the company is like nothing I can describe to any of you. It’s exhilarating, slightly exhausting, but it is an opportunity of a lifetime to watch it happening,” said Yaccarino.

Counter to what many critics expected and indeed Musk’s own worst fears, X has not gone bankrupt since Musk was forced under penalty of court to honour in full his contract to buy Twitter for US$44bil.

It’s survived a period when it reportedly refused to pay countless bills, witnessed the proliferation of imposter accounts, and eliminated the majority of its headcount (including even the most dedicated).

Yaccarino even managed to steer the company ahead after Musk told former advertisers like Disney to “go (expletive) yourself,” adding on Monday that in retrospect she’d have taken the job again in a heartbeat.

But the transition into a more lucrative video-first platform has been slow despite every attempt by Musk to stream his Diablo IV video gaming live to followers.

‘She smoked ’em’

When Musk urged popular Twitch streamers to switch to X by attacking his Amazon-owned rival for its failure to police its content, he was promptly ridiculed over his own platform’s infestation of bots.

Days later, X announced its own change of course and reworded its terms of service to specifically permit sharing content not safe for work. It subsequently eliminated any ability to see what posts users like.

In other words, Yaccarino and her team still have a lot of work to do if X is indeed to become the everything app. Right now users only spend some 35 minutes a day on the platform, according to Yaccarino.

While she believes that will “only go up” going forward once payments are rolled out starting in the US market, that number is still far from the declared goal of users spending, in her words, “most of their lives” on the platform.

But her experience testifying alongside four peers on the issue of policing child grooming and sexual exploitation on social media helped boost her confidence to succeed in this task as well. Interviewer Zalis of the Female Quotient was quick to agree: “If you actually watch the hearing, it was Linda and five [sic] dudes – and she smoked ’em.” – New York Times

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