Work ’til you drop, or leave, Musk tells Twitter employees

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Nov 16, 2022

via Flickr ©  jdlasica (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © jdlasica (CC BY 2.0)

  • Twitter 2.0 begins at 5pm east coast US time on Thursday, but no one knows quite what that means
  • Diktat tells staff to sign up to long hours of intense hardcore work or immediately leave with three months’ pay
  • Elon Musk might own Tesla as well, but he’s ruling Twitter by fiat
  • Big brands warned that placing ads on Twitter is “high risk"

The daily drip, drip, drip of destruction at Twitter continues as Elon Musk erratically dismantles the company, seemingly on a series of petulant whims and with no apparent strategy to rebuild it. His latest bombshell came late on Tuesday when he issued an email ultimatum to what remains of Twitter’s workforce requiring employees to sign an obligatory “pledge” to unspecified but very long hours of “hardcore” work for no extra pay and with no time off in lieu for the extra days they will be putting in. 

Given that many staff were working a minimum of 12 hours a day, seven days a week in the fevered aftermath of Musk’s arrival at Twitter HQ – when he was toting a kitchen sink in a literally laboured effort to reinforce his tweet to workers about "Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in!” which it has, right up to the plughole – it surely must be almost impossible, and detrimental to health, for staff to put in any more hours of daily or weekly work. It must also be skirting the edges of legality, despite the notoriously poor and very limited employee job security safeguards and laws that pertain in the US.

However, the latest diktat, which translates as “sign up or ship out” is not immediately effective. Twitter employees don’t need to panic. They do get until close of business (what a joke) on Thursday to commit to “long hours of high intensity” or they “can leave with three months severance” pay. Apparently the second coming of Twitter is upon them, or at least on those that opt to stay. As Musk writes in an email, “If you are sure that you want to be part of the new Twitter, please click yes on the link below. Twitter 2.0 begins at 5pm ET.”

As yet another indication of the chaos that is currently engulfing the company, Musk has stopped in its tracks the new and much vaunted US$8 a month “Twitter Blue Verification” badge, introduced a few days ago to raise cash as quickly as possible by effectively trashing the established and somewhat trusted user verification system. The new badge of honour product came in to an incredibly tight and rushed deadline (possibly because staff were told they would be “let go” if they missed it). The timetable was met and launched but the product itself resulted in huge numbers of malign actors, impersonators and frauds paying a whole eight bucks each to be given a clean bill of health and, with it, the unbridled opportunity to create mayhem across the global social network platform.

Musk was warned by some Twitter staff who were brave enough to suggest that his idea was stupid (and we don’t know how many staff got the bullet for daring to speak truth to power) but the CEO, entire board of directors and chief twit (Musk and Musk alone) announced after just two days that enrolments to the new scheme would cease because of “issues” surrounding its launch. Apparently it will relaunch on 29 November, after teams of employees have worked round the clock “to make sure that it is rock solid”.

One of the “issues” behind Musk’s decision to shelve the Twitter Blue Verification badge is money. He needs advertising revenues, urgently, but advertisers are running scared of what he’ll do next and are pulling their ads. This morning, GroupM, which is a division of the world’s largest advertising company, WPP (the initials actually stand for Wire and Plastic Products), has announced to the world in general and its clients in particular (they are some of the biggest brands on earth) that buying ad space on Twitter is now “high risk”. WPP buys ad space globally and is the biggest spender Twitter has, so its warning has real bite. IPG and Omnicom Media have also advised their clients to at least pause advertising on Twitter, if not quite yet to abandon it altogether. 

GroupM has compiled a list of items (seen by technology news website The Verge and by Digiday, a New York-based company that “takes a global view of the media and marketing industries and confronts the truths in technology's disruption of these industries) that it wants Musk to address as a matter of urgency. The list includes: 

1) A return to baseline NSFW levels. NSFW means ‘not safe for work’ and applies to marking links to content, videos or website pages containing hate speech, pornography, extreme political content, graphic violence and so on, that users would not want to be observed accessing in “public, formal or controlled environments”.

2) Registering extreme concern about the precipitate departure of senior executives from the company, GroupM wants new, experienced, safety, security, compliance, privacy and trust officers to be recruited and put in place as soon as possible.

3) GroupM is also pushing for the “establishment of internal checks & balances”. One can understand why. 

4) Also required is openness and transparency in regard to any plans or changes that would affect user or brand safety. That includes “changes to community guidelines and moderation policies”.

5) A “commitment to content moderation” plus “the ability to enforce the platform’s rules”. 

6) Assurances that Twitter will always comply with the legal requirements of the US Trade Commission.  

And for everyone else, advertiser or not, what is needed is a permanent end to the far too cursory and easy verification of fake Twitter handles that disguise charlatans, fraudsters, mountebanks, poodle-fakers and thoroughly bad lots.

According to the internal message seen by Platformer, an excellent website that covers “social networks and their relationships with the world” and lives at “the intersection of Silicon Valley and democracy”, Twitter says it is “working through” GroupM’s list of required changes.

What Musk thinks of them is not yet known, and whether or not he’ll do anything about them or just continue his self-appointed task of destroying Twitter remains to be seen. Probably the very best thing he could do is appoint a CEO in his stead and allow whoever it is the autonomy to try to put things right. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that in the foreseeable future – and who’d want to take the job anyway?


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