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Answers to some of the biggest Twitter questions

Can the service survive? Are there any good alternatives?

Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, the day after hundreds of Twitter employees resigned en masse.Jason Henry/NYT

Elon Musk has owned Twitter for less than a month, but already the billionaire entrepreneur has generated enough chaos to throw the future of the popular social-media service in doubt.

Since completing his $44 billion acquisition, Musk has fired half of the company’s 7,500 employees, introduced a new verification system that led to a wave of fake posts, scared away major advertisers with his own bizarre posts, and gave all remaining employees an ultimatum: Choose between staying on for “long hours at high intensity” or quitting. And that was before he reinstated previously banned accounts including that of former President Trump.

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Some of the mayhem might have been predictable. Musk was never a typical CEO at Tesla, where he famously slept on a factory floor to help iron out manufacturing problems, ignored local public health orders to shut down a factory during COVID, and reportedly fired or threatened to fire company leaders who disagreed with him.

So where does that leave the future of Twitter? Here are a few questions and answers.

Could Twitter go under?

It’s quite possible. The sudden departures of employees last week after Musk’s ultimatum included people who worked to keep the service up and running. That could leave Twitter understaffed if any glitches emerge, particularly with the surge of activity expected with the World Cup getting underway.

In its early days, the service was infamous for crashing and displaying a picture of a whale that became known as the “fail whale.” It’s been more than a few years since the last serious outage, but outgoing employees and IT experts are warning that keeping the complex system running could be difficult without key staff.

Temporary outages might not be the worst fallout from Twitter’s staff exodus. Security researcher Matt Blaze noted that the service’s security could also be compromised. “The bad things I’m worried about as Twitter implodes don’t involve spectacular interruptions of service (though that will suck), but quiet data breaches and account compromises,” he tweeted on Friday.

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Elon Musk in 2020. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

How many people still work at Twitter?

Before Musk arrived, many analysts thought Twitter was overstaffed with more than 7,500 full-time employees and thousands more temporary contractors. Musk signaled he agreed, ahead of taking over, and reportedly floated a plan to cut 75 percent of the workforce.

Within days of gaining control, Musk ordered half of all workers be let go, in addition to firing top executives.

Then came the ultimatum. Last Wednesday, remaining Twitter employees got an e-mail from Musk headlined “A fork in the road,” as initially reported by the Washington Post. “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore,” Musk wrote. Employees were offered a choice of staying or quitting and getting three months of severance pay — and they had to decide by 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Many employees took to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms to announce they were quitting. “There was no retention plan for those that stayed,” Peter Clowes, a software engineer in Colorado who decided to quit, posted on Friday. ”No clear upside for sticking it through the storm on the horizon. Just ‘trust us’ style verbal promises. But tweeps overall were untrusting after the 7 months of acquisition drama, recent tweets, and leaks etc.”

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In Boston, a group of employees posted a video of what was likely to be some of their final moments working for the company.

Now, it’s unclear how many Twitter workers remain. Reports on Friday indicated that one-quarter or more of employees opted to quit, or another 1,000 to 1,200 people.

Are there any viable Twitter alternatives?

The chaos and talk of potential system crashes have prompted many Twitter users to search for alternatives. However, as conservative users fleeing the service after former President Trump was banned discovered, there are no comparable platforms that can match Twitter’s breadth and depth of posters and readers.

Still, some alternate services have seen tremendous growth. Mastodon, a Twitter alternative based on open source software and run by German programmer Eugen Rochko, has jumped from fewer than 1 million users to more than 7 million so far this month. But the service has had glitches of its own keeping up with the growth and doesn’t offer the features or breadth of posts as Twitter.

The problems at Twitter are also encouraging new services to attract defectors. Waze founder Noam Bardin started a service called Post.news with a goal of becoming “a civil place to debate ideas; learn from experts, journalists, individual creators, and each other; converse freely; and have some fun.”

Unfortunately for people looking for a Twitter alternative, Bardin’s service is still in beta testing and offers only a waiting list sign-up form. As of Sunday night, more than 125,000 people had signed up but only 3,500 were allowed on the service as users, according to an e-mail from Bardin.

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So far, there aren’t any equivalent sites for social-media hounds needing a fix of the latest news, memes, and clever puns. Ultimately, if and when the chaos passes, many Twitter users may choose to remain.


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.