Elon Musk warned Twitter employees on Thursday to prepare for “tough times ahead” that could end with the social media platform’s collapse if they can’t find new ways to make money.
Workers who survived last week’s mass layoffs face tougher working conditions and growing uncertainty about their ability to keep Twitter running safely as it continues to lose high-level leaders responsible for data privacy, cybersecurity and compliance with regulations.
That includes Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of trust and security — a previously little-known executive who became the public face of Twitter’s content oversight after Musk took over and who had been praised by Musk for championing Twitter’s ongoing efforts to combat harmful misinformation and hate speech. An executive confirmed Roth’s resignation to colleagues on an internal message board seen by The Associated Press.
The developments were part of another whirlwind day in Musk’s takeover of the social media platform. It started with an email to Musk’s employees on Wednesday night ordering employees to stop working from home and report to the office on Thursday morning. He called his first “all hands” meeting Thursday afternoon. Before that, many relied on the public tweets of Tesla’s billionaire CEO for clues about Twitter’s future.
“Sorry this is my first company-wide email, but there’s no way to reveal the message,” Musk wrote, before describing a tough economic climate for businesses like Twitter that rely almost entirely on advertising to make money.
“Without significant subscription revenue, there’s a good chance Twitter won’t survive the coming economic downturn,” Musk said. “We need about half of our revenue to be subscription.”
At the staff meeting, Musk said some “great” employees could request an exception to his return-to-office order, but that others they didn’t like could quit, according to an employee at the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity. concern about job security.
The employee also said Musk appeared to play down employee concerns about how Twitter’s workforce handled its obligations to maintain privacy and data security standards, saying that as Tesla’s CEO he knew how it worked. this.
Musk’s memo and staff meeting echoed a lively conversation trying to reassure big advertisers on Wednesday, his most extensive public comments on Twitter’s direction since closing a $44 billion deal to buy the social media platform network late last month and fired its top executives. Some well-known brands have stopped advertising on Twitter.
Musk told employees that a “priority over the last 10 days” was developing and rolling out Twitter’s new $7.99-a-month subscription service that includes a blue checkmark next to the name of paying members — the badge previously was for verified accounts only. Musk’s project has had a rocky launch with an onslaught of newly purchased fake accounts this week impersonating high-profile figures such as basketball star LeBron James and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to post false information or offensive jokes.
In a second email to employees, Musk said the “absolute top priority” in the coming days is to stop “bots/trolls/spam” exploiting verified accounts. But Twitter now employs far fewer people to help it do that.
An executive last week said Twitter was cutting about 50 percent of its workforce, which numbered 7,500 earlier this year.
Musk told employees in the email that “remote work is no longer allowed” and that the road is “difficult and will require intense work to succeed” and that they will need to be in the office at least 40 hours a week.
Twitter’s ongoing exit includes the company’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, and chief information security officer Lea Kissner, who he tweeted on Thursday that “I’ve made the difficult decision to leave Twitter.”
Cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, tweeted Thursday that there is a “serious risk of a breach with drastically reduced staff” that could also bring Twitter into conflict with a 2011 order from the Federal Trade Commission that required to address serious data security gaps.
“Twitter has made huge strides toward a more streamlined internal security model, and backing down will put them in trouble with the FTC” and other regulators in the U.S. and Europe, Stamos said.
The FTC said in a statement Thursday that it is “following the recent developments on Twitter with deep concern.”
“No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees,” the agency’s statement said. “The revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are ready to use them.”
The FTC would not say whether it was investigating Twitter for potential violations. If he was, he has the power to demand documents and remove officials.
In an email to employees seen by the AP, Musk said that “Twitter will do whatever it takes to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FTC’s consent decree.”
“Anything you read to the contrary is absolutely false. The same goes for any other government regulatory issue where Twitter operates,” Musk wrote.
Twitter paid a $150 million fine in May for violating the 2011 consent order, and its updated version established new procedures requiring the company to implement an improved privacy program as well as strengthen information security.
These new procedures include an exhaustive list of disclosures Twitter must make to the FTC when it introduces new products and services — particularly when they affect personal data collected about users.
Musk is essentially revising the platform’s offerings, and it’s not known if he’s telling the FTC. Twitter, which has disbanded its communications department, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Musk has a history of tangling with regulators. “I have no respect for the SEC,” Musk said in a 2018 tweet.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently scrutinized his disclosures to the agency about Twitter’s stock purchases to amass a significant stake. In 2018, Musk and Tesla agreed to pay $20 million in fines over Musk’s allegedly misleading tweets that said he had secured financing to take the electric car maker private for $420 per share. Musk fought the SEC in court to comply with the deal.
The consequences for not complying with the FTC’s requirements can be severe – like when Facebook had to pay $5 billion for privacy violations.
“If Twitter sneezes this much, it needs to do a privacy audit beforehand,” tweeted Riana Pfefferkorn, a researcher at Stanford University who said she previously provided Twitter with outside legal counsel. “There are periodic external audits and the FTC can monitor compliance.”
AP reporters Frank Bajak and Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.
Matt O’brien, The Associated Press