Elon Musk and Twitter: “He acts like a little bully on the playground”

PublishedNovember 22, 2022, 7:51 pm

Elon Musk and Twitter“He acts like a little bully on the playground”

Everyone expected a collision, and no one was disappointed: Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social network exposed the gap between the culture of the San Francisco company and the methods of Tesla’s multi-billionaire boss.

Elon Musk puts a lot of pressure on Twitter employees.


“My impression is that Musk really loves humanity, but not people,” comments Emmanuel Cornet, a computer engineer who was one of the first to be fired from the social network after the October 27 acquisition.

He used to be one of many employees genuinely curious to see the successful entrepreneur at work, despite his penchant for provocation, which delights his many fans. “I think we had blinkers. Most of the employees tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, also because finding another job is not always easy,” he sums up. But Elon Musk, in addition to big smiles and enthusiastic statements, lived up to his reputation.

He fired half of the group’s 7,500 employees with a coldness rare even in the United States, thanked the executives and engineers who disagreed with him, and finally issued an ultimatum: work “fully, unconditionally” or leave. Hundreds of people chose the second option.

“He acts like a little bully on the playground. Any criticism of his grossly inaccurate statements about technology deserves immediate dismissal,” said Sarah Roberts, professor of social media at UCLA.

“Show No Mercy”

Emmanuel Cornet was particularly shocked by the lack of “respect” for the richest man in the world: “In the long run, objectively, it seems that he is trying to help the planet, in particular with electric cars. (…) But the people around him seem disposable.”

Elon Musk “has a swaggering, bravado side. He is a brash, uncompromising entrepreneur who builds rockets and cars that impress people. The Twitter culture is much more sober, with a more progressive and social vision,” said John Wihby, professor of media at Northeastern University.

The libertarian entrepreneur has long had close ties to Silicon Valley, where he co-founded Tesla. But he has since disowned the California Democrat, protesting health restrictions during the pandemic and accusations of “racial segregation” against his plant. In late 2021, it moved its flagship headquarters to Texas, a Republican-majority state with conservative politics.

Twitter was founded by the legendary Jack Dorsey, “who has everything from a Zen guru in search of spirituality,” recalls John Wihby. The Tweet Network employees were “proud to work there,” he adds. “They believed in what they were doing.”

Emmanuel Cornet spent 14 years at Google before moving to Twitter, two groups that didn’t seem “obsessed with profit” at the time of his selection. “The sense of community on Twitter is strong enough to keep going after” layoffs, he enthuses.


The ex-twips, as the social network employees describe themselves, wrote farewell messages on the platform with a lot of hearts, and then created groups on Discord or Signal to support each other. Many said they were ready to work hard, but not just pompous promises (“creating a revolutionary Twitter 2.0”), relying on sudden decisions.

After Thursday’s ultimatum, dozens of them gathered in the audio room on the platform to reminisce, full of nostalgia, never criticizing those who chose to stay.

When asked during an employee meeting about the risk of losing staff, Elon Musk replied that he did not have a “correct answer.” “I can tell you what works at Tesla: being physically present in the office and doing your best,” he added.

The quirky leader, who hates remote work, which is very popular among computer engineers, loves to talk about how he slept on the spot, at Tesla, when his company was “on the brink of bankruptcy.” “At Neuralink or Tesla, he was able to make life difficult for employees because they are dedicated, working with cutting-edge technology. There is a vision,” explains Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor at Yale University.

On Twitter, by contrast, between mass layoffs, a culture of coercion and its “whims”, there is likely no process of uniting employees around a creative culture, this corporate governance specialist elaborates. According to Sarah Roberts, for many in Silicon Valley, “being fired by Elon (Musk) was an honor.”


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