More Twitter workers flee after Musk’s ‘hardcore’ ultimatum

 Twitter's offices abruptly shut down on Thursday as hundreds of employees refused to continue working under Elon Musk's new vision for the social platform.

Company officials told employees all buildings were being temporarily closed, effective immediately, and that their ability to renter with ID access was being suspended for the time being, two people familiar with the company's action told Insider. The offices are expected to reopen Monday.

A current employee noted the closing of offices is a dramatic move but intended to "prevent physical sabotage while they sort out access revocations," according to a Slack message seen by Insider. The closure was first reported on Twitter by Zoe Schiffer of the Platformer newsletter.

The closure came about an hour after Musk's 5 pm ET deadline for Twitter workers to officially sign on to his new "extremely hardcore" plans for the company. Less than 50% of the company's remaining staff of roughly 4,000 people signed up to work at "Twitter 2.0," as Insider reported, meaning they effectively resigned under the terms Musk offered in a Tuesday ultimatum.

So few people signed up to Musk's offer that he and other executives attempted to personally convince some "critical" personnel to stay with the company, as Insider reported. In one such meeting, some staffers who had called in via videoconference began to hang up after the 5 p.m. deadline, according to a report in The New York Times, even as Musk continued speaking.

This is the second time offices have suddenly closed since Musk took over Twitter. The company closed offices and barred employees from entering the evening Musk began to enact mass layoffs about three weeks ago. In an email sent at the time regarding the offices being closed, the company said the move was to "ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data."

Thursday's closure came a week after Musk sent his first company-wide email to Twitter employees, saying that remote work at the company was no longer acceptable, save for those doing "exceptional" work. In the days since, Musk has softened his stance on remote work, saying Thursday that it would continue to be allowed with a manager's approval and backing.

Twitter did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

Twitter is falling apart.

The San Francisco tech company has been reduced to a shadow of its former self just weeks after the takeover of Tesla head Elon Musk. Employees are apparently jumping ship after Elon Musk’s Google Form ultimatum for total and utter fealty. Meanwhile, Musk is already bored with his $44 billion toy, saying he no longer wants to be CEO in court this week. All this is to say: Things are not going terribly great over on the bird app.

Here is what you need to know about the Chief Twit’s Twitter, while it’s still around and kicking. Insert salute emoji here.

Twitter closes its doors once more. Is the end coming?

Nov. 17, 5 p.m.

Twitter’s closing up its offices through the weekend. 

According to industry insider Zoe Schiffer, employees were notified that Twitter’s offices, likely including its San Francisco headquarters, will be closed. The reason remains unclear, but according to Schiffer, it is out of an abundance of caution that an employee who did not declare their loyalty to Musk would “sabotage” Twitter on their way out.

While this has happened once before — after the initial round of layoffs earlier this month — this closure appears to have drawn particular concern from Twitter users, with many tweeting about the site's possible demise in the days to come.

Elon Musk’s ultimatum to Twitter engineers apparently falls flat 

Nov. 17, 5 p.m.

The Google Form Elon Musk sent out earlier this week did not have the motivational effect that he may have thought it would.

According to multiple tech insiders, including the Verge’s Alex Heath, far fewer engineers than anticipated signed a promise to be “extremely hardcore” and work interminably long hours for Elon Musk’s Twitter 2.0.

Heath noted Thursday afternoon that the company’s Slack is filled with “hundreds of employees giving the salute emoji” to indicate their departure from this new “hardcore” version of Twitter; the salute emoji (or “o7”) is used in certain corners of the internet to show reverence to video game players (usually Twitch streamers).  

To quote the, uh, ever-wise Kim Kardashian, “It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” (And understandably so.)

Twitter Inc. suffered a new wave of employee departures after Elon Musk set a Thursday deadline for them to commit to working “long hours at high intensity” or leave.

Many staffers spent the past day weighing their options, after waking up Wednesday to an overnight email in which Mr. Musk told them to fill out a form by Thursday, 5 p.m. ET, to indicate if they want to remain at the company and are willing to be “extremely hardcore.” Employees who don’t opt in will be given three months of severance, Mr. Musk said.

Employees began posting farewells Thursday as they opted not to sign up. The full scope of the departures wasn’t immediately clear, though employees said they were sizable.

After the Thursday deadline passed and resignations became apparent, Twitter emailed employees saying that the company was temporarily closing its office buildings effective immediately. The offices will reopen Monday, the email said.

As the deadline approached Thursday, some employees posted farewells to the company’s internal Slack messaging platform, according to screenshots viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some posted the “saluting face” emoji, which many employees had adopted as a symbol of the end of Twitter’s pre-Musk era following mass layoffs earlier this month.

Online, several said they were leaving after years of service and with heavy hearts. “I resigned today from my job at Twitter. I have nothing but love and admiration for the incredibly kind and talented people I have worked with over these past 4 years,” one departing employee wrote on the platform.

Amid the constant workforce upheaval, Mr. Musk and the remaining employees are working not only to keep Twitter functioning but also to engineer changes that he says will improve it. Adding to the potential strain, Mr. Musk has said the usage of Twitter has increased since he completed his acquisition, and the company is bracing for the start on Sunday of soccer’s World Cup, which in the past has brought surges in traffic on the platform.

“The best people are staying, so I’m not super worried,” Mr. Musk tweeted late Thursday. He had earlier poked fun at concerns the platform could struggle to maintain service with employees exiting. “Don’t wanna jinx it, but there’s a chance we can keep Twitter alive …” he tweeted.

Some employees said they had doubts about whether Mr. Musk’s email offering severance would have legal forcenoting that the email provided few details. Amid the uncertainty, the company later Wednesday sent around a document addressing such questions, including stating that Mr. Musk’s email was an official company communication, adding, “This is not a phishing attempt.”

“As you have seen, Twitter is at the beginning of an exciting journey,” said the document, which was viewed by the Journal. “We are asking you to confirm that you want to be part of this journey.” Mr. Musk has referred to the next phase of the company as Twitter 2.0. 

With all that ongoing, and a week after raising the specter of bankruptcy, Mr. Musk took to Twitter on Thursday to joke, “How do you make a small fortune in social media? Start out with a large one.”

Some aspects of the severance offered to the latest departures would differ by location. Employees in the U.S., except in New York City, would receive two months of nonworking time on payroll, as well as health benefits, and an additional one month of base salary, according to the document. That would generally also apply to international employees, subject to local legal requirements, the document said. 

Elon Musk Says ‘Too Much Work on My Plate’ After Twitter Takeover
Elon Musk Says ‘Too Much Work on My Plate’ After Twitter Takeover
Elon Musk Says ‘Too Much Work on My Plate’ After Twitter TakeoverPlay video: Elon Musk Says ‘Too Much Work on My Plate’ After Twitter Takeover
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, appeared virtually at the B20 business conference in Indonesia on Monday and said he had too much work after taking over Twitter. The billionaire also said the social-media platform needs to publish more videos. Photo: B20 Indonesia 2022/YouTube

Employees in New York City would receive three months of nonworking time on payroll and health benefits, more than other locations because of local legal requirements, the document shows. 

Some Twitter employees said they suspected that many colleagues would take Mr. Musk up on his offer to leave the company, though they weren’t sure exactly how many. Out of one group of about 60 employees, roughly 50% to 75% told colleagues they planned to depart, one person said Thursday morning.

Other employees, however, planned to stay, including for financial reasons or because they were curious about the company’s new direction, some people said. 

The ultimatum represents Mr. Musk’s latest challenge to staff that he already cut roughly in half with mass layoffs earlier this month, about a week after he acquired Twitter for $44 billion and took it private. The company had roughly 7,500 employees at the start of the year. The layoffs also prompted a temporary office closure.

Employees also have been grappling with messages from Mr. Musk about future working conditions that some said they found confusing. Last week, Mr. Musk said he would rescind Twitter’s flexible remote-work policy, though he said there could be specific exceptions.

On Thursday, Mr. Musk told employees all that was required for approval to work remotely was that an employee’s manager takes responsibility for ensuring the person is doing excellent work, according to an email seen by the Journal. Some employees viewed that as an attempt to be conciliatory. In a further email minutes later, Mr. Musk warned that any manager who falsely claimed someone was doing excellent or essential work would be “exited from the company.”

Twitter also has fired many contractors, including people working in engineering, marketing, and customer support, people familiar with the matter have said. 

Mr. Musk has moved quickly to consolidate power, firing Twitter’s chief executive, chief financial officer, and legal chief on the same late October day he bought the company. Many other executives have left since. This week, several Twitter employees said they were fired after they criticized Mr. Musk on Twitter or internally on Slack.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor lawyer in Brookline, Mass., said she received calls throughout the day Wednesday from Twitter employees seeking clarity about their rights, after Mr. Musk’s overnight email. 

Ms. Liss-Riordan has filed three lawsuits against Twitter in recent weeks on behalf of recently departed employees, accusing the company of violating federal and state law by not providing the legally required warning in advance of mass layoffs. One lawsuit is focused on full-time employees, while a second concerns contractors. In the third complaint, a former Twitter employee is accusing the company of firing disabled workers in violation of state and federal disability law. 

Some Twitter employees noted that those on visas have less flexibility. Many tech employees use H-1B specialty occupation visas, which generally allow workers 60 days after losing employment to find a new job or face leaving the country.

Laid-off Twitter employees may not have a strong case for a violation of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act, which requires employers to give 60 days advance notice before mass job cuts if the employer alternatively provides 60 days of pay and benefits, said Marc Zimmerman, a labor lawyer in New York. That is because, in the ultimatum email, Mr. Musk said those who opt to leave the company would receive three months of severance.

“This is definitely Twitter’s attempt to avoid litigation,” Mr. Zimmerman said, adding that the same law exempts employers from providing notice ahead of a mass layoff in the case of unforeseeable business circumstances. Mr. Musk recently tweeted that Twitter suffered “a massive drop in revenue” after a string of advertisers began pausing their spending on the platform.

Twitter employees considering their options have also had to weigh the fact that the tech job market recently has taken a sudden and sharp turn, as other major companies also have announced mass layoffs. Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., Inc., and Lyft Inc. recently made major job cuts after previously bulking up their workforces. 

IN THE WEEKS since Elon Musk was forced to complete his acquisition of Twitter for $44 billion, the social network has been in a state of dramatic upheaval. Musk laid off more than half its workforce and fired more via public tweets. Digital infrastructure went on the fritz. And today, a reported 75 percent of staff refused to sign a pledge to work “long hours at high intensity," ostensibly triggering their resignations. It's now unclear who still works at Twitter.

In short, all hell is breaking loose at the bird site.

As the chaos mounts, one consequence inside the company could be less attention on digital security monitoring and fewer dedicated staffers working to defend Twitter from cyberattacks. And that could put the company and its users at increased risk of a massive data breach or another security incident.

The possibility of a Twitter breach is particularly worrying given a whistleblower report and congressional testimony this summer from Twitter's former chief security officer, Peiter Zatko, that alleged an already dire state of the company's internal defenses and access controls. In other words, the company already seemingly had security issues before Musk took over—and the situation may have gotten worse since.

The good news is that unlike the credit bureau Equifax or Sony Pictures—both of which suffered breaches of the incredibly sensitive user or internal information in the past eight years—Twitter doesn't broadly collect or store government-issued identity data like Social Security numbers, doesn't hold financial information about most of its users, and doesn't require users to input data like street addresses or birth dates. Plus, while not all tweets are shared publicly, most are. Yet Twitter still holds a vast and potentially extremely valuable trove of user data, including the contents of their direct messages and the social graph of who users have communicated and interacted with on the platform, as well as phone numbers, email addresses, and other potentially private details. Users can also opt into location-sharing in tweets, and the company has collected different user information at different times over the years, which could mean it holds more than you realize.

Users also have limited ability to delete their direct messages on Twitter. The chat platform offers the option to “Delete for You,” meaning you can delete messages in your own account, but you can't delete them for the users with whom you are DM'ing. And in general, Twitter has not stated firmly what its practices are with regard to deleting user data even when they deactivate their accounts. Twitter's policy on account deactivation simply says, “If you do not log back into your account for the 30 days following the deactivation, your account will be permanently deactivated. Once permanently deactivated, all information associated with your account is no longer available in our Production Tools.” Given that no form of the word “delete” appears there, it's difficult to parse the true meaning of the policy. 

Twitter did not return multiple requests for comment from WIRED about data deletion. Relatedly, the company's entire communications department has reportedly been let go.

Security researchers and incident responders emphasize, though, that a breach of Twitter's infrastructure or a data leak wouldn't necessarily focus on impacting users but could also reveal sensitive company information. And malicious control of Twitter's infrastructure could be weaponized in a number of ways to spread disinformation, stoke conflict, or even hijack Twitter's mobile apps.

“Twitter has seemingly neglected security for a very long time, and with all the changes, there is risk for sure,” says David Kennedy, CEO of the incident response firm TrustedSec, who formerly worked at the NSA and with the United States Marine Corps signal intelligence unit. “There’s a lot of work to be done to stabilize and secure the platform, and there is definitely an elevated risk from a malicious insider perspective due to all the changes occurring. As time passes, the probability of an incident lowers, but the security risks and technology debt are still there.”

A breach of Twitter could expose the company or users in myriad ways. Of particular concern would be an incident that endangers users who are activists, dissidents, or journalists under a repressive regime. With more than 230 million users, a Twitter breach would also have far-reaching potential consequences for identity theft, harassment, and other harm to users around the world. And from a government intelligence perspective, the data has already proved valuable enough over the years to motivate government spies to infiltrate the company, a threat the whistleblower Zatko said Twitter was not prepared to counter.

The company was already under scrutiny from the US Federal Trade Commission for past practices, and on Thursday, seven Democratic senators called on the FTC to investigate whether “reported changes to internal reviews and data security practices” at Twitter violated the terms of a 2011 settlement between Twitter and the FTC over past data mishandling. 

Were a breach to happen, the details would, of course, dictate the consequences for users, Twitter, and Musk. But the outspoken billionaire may want to note that, at the end of October, the FTC issued an order against the online delivery service Drizly along with personal sanctions against its CEO, James Cory Rellas, after the company exposed the data of roughly 2.5 million users. The order requires the company to have stricter policies on deleting information and to minimize data collection and retention, while also requiring the same from Cory Rellas at any future companies he works for.

Speaking broadly about the current digital security threat landscape at the Aspen Cyber Summit in New York City on Wednesday, Rob Silvers, undersecretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, urged vigilance from companies and other organizations. “I wouldn't get too complacent. We see enough attempted intrusions and successful intrusions every day that we are not letting our guard down even a little bit,” he said. “Defense matters, resilience matters in this space.”

Dan Tentler, a founder of the attack simulation and remediation firm Phobos Group who worked in Twitter security from 2011 to 2012, points out that while current chaos and understaffing within the company do create pressing potential risks, it also could pose challenges to attackers who might have difficulty at this moment mapping the organization to target employees who likely have strategic access or control within the company. He adds, though, that the stakes are high because of Twitter's scale and reach around the world.

“If there are insiders left within Twitter or someone breaches Twitter, there's probably not a lot standing in their way from doing whatever they want—you have an environment where there may not be a lot of defenders left,” he says.

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