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Elon Musk fires Twitter employees who criticized him

The Twitter offices in San Francisco in May 2020.Winni Wintermeyer/For The Washington Post

SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk continued cutting Twitter’s workforce in his third week of owning the social media company, firing employees who had criticized him and eliminating contractors.

Early Tuesday, Musk’s team ordered nearly two dozen Twitter employees who had pushed back publicly and privately against him to be fired, three people with knowledge of the matter said. The billionaire, who completed a $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last month, later confirmed the exits on the platform and mocked the former employees.

The firings followed cuts to Twitter’s contract workforce over the weekend. Many contractors work on content moderation and data science and were let go without notice, five people familiar with the matter said.


Musk has moved quickly to transform Twitter as he has painted a grim picture of its finances. He laid off half the company’s 7,500 workers this month, while pushing remaining employees to quickly build and launch new products. Last week, he said Twitter faced the possibility of bankruptcy and needed to become more “hard core” to survive. Musk plans to reorganize the company to eliminate middle managers, six people familiar with the matter said.

At the same time, Musk has sought to keep Twitter’s staff motivated. On Monday, he sent employees a brief message, which was viewed by The New York Times, explaining that “exceptional amounts of stock would be awarded for exceptional performance.” Musk likened the structure to how things worked at SpaceX, his private rocket manufacturer, but provided no further details.

Twitter has been under financial pressure as some advertisers have backed away from it. Macy’s has paused its advertising spending on the platform, a person familiar with the decision said. The fashion company Balenciaga deleted its Twitter account. And Omnicom Media Group, whose agencies represent companies such as PepsiCo and McDonald’s, urged its clients to halt their activity on Twitter in a memo citing risks that have “risen sharply to a level most would find unacceptable,” a person familiar with the memo said.


Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment. The Platformer newsletter earlier reported the contractor cuts.

Musk’s firings followed a tweet, posted Sunday, in which he wrote that Twitter was “super slow in many countries” because of the way it handled data.

“This is wrong,” Eric Frohnhoefer, a Twitter developer, responded. Musk invited Frohnhoefer to correct the mistake, and the two exchanged several messages.

Then on Monday, Musk tweeted that Frohnhoefer was “fired.” He later deleted the tweet.

Frohnhoefer did not respond to a request for comment.

Musk’s team was asked to comb through messages in Twitter’s internal chat platform and make a list of employees who were insubordinate, people briefed on the plan said. They also sorted through employees’ tweets, looking for criticism. Those deemed rule breakers received emails around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time Tuesday, notifying them that they were fired, according to emails viewed by the Times.

Several Twitter employees who shared news of Frohnhoefer’s firing in internal chats were cut, said six people familiar with events. They were told that they had been terminated for “violating company policy,” according to emails seen by the Times.

“I would like to apologize for firing these geniuses,” Musk tweeted sarcastically on Tuesday. “Their immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.” In another tweet, he mocked a former employee, suggesting the person’s Twitter posts about him were caused by “a tragic case of adult onset Tourette’s.”


Melissa Ingle, a data science contractor who worked on tracking political misinformation, said she had not been informed of layoffs but lost access to her Twitter email and internal systems on Saturday afternoon. Hours later, her contracting management company, Magnit, notified her that Twitter was conducting “a reprioritization and saving exercise” and that her last day would be Monday, according to an email seen by the Times.

“As a contractor, I don’t get severance,” Ingle said. “I’m scared I won’t be able to pay rent or provide for my kids.”

Magnit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some employees are concerned that they will not be reimbursed for work-related expense reports that they filed before the mass layoffs, two people familiar with the issue said. Some have accumulated thousands of dollars in expenses that have not been paid out, while others have been told that expenses that were not approved by human resources managers before the mass layoffs will not be paid back.

Remaining Twitter employees have been bracing for a companywide reorganization, which could come before the end of the week, six people said. During the layoffs, Musk eliminated many managers, creating a flatter structure. In his first meeting with employees, on Thursday, Musk said design, program management and engineering would report directly to him, according to a recording heard by the Times.