In the two weeks since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter Inc., employees of the social media platform were anxious and unsettled following an internal memo warning of impending layoffs. On Friday, that anticipation came to a head as the company gutted half of its 7,500 employee base, 9% of which is Black.
In a tweet sent late Friday night, Musk noted he had “no choice” but to make cuts: “Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day. Everyone exited was offered 3 months of severance, which is 50% more than legally required.”
Reactions from impacted employees spanned the spectrum from distress to solace.
“Relieved. That’s how I felt when I learned my job would be impacted,” said a Twitter employee who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m not aligned with the shift in company culture and values. There is just no way that toxicity isn’t going to trickle down through the organization,” they said.
Another employee said they were braced for the impact but were shocked by the callous way it was handled. “I wasn’t able to login to my email or Slack,” they said. “That’s how I found out.”
ESSENCE spoke to employees of the platform — referred to as Bailey and Cam to protect their identity, to get their take on the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) under the new regime, how Black Twitter might fare in the shakeup, and how Musk’s takeover will likely affect the overall tone of the platform.
Musk’s Takeover Means a Less Inclusive Company Culture.
Employees were initially optimistic about a potential Musk takeover, Bailey said.
“From afar, we were thinking — this could mean great improvements from an engineering and product perspective because he’s known in the industry as having skills in that arena. But the closer we got to him, the more we realized that his personal ideologies are so far away from ours,” they said.
Bailey predicts the new leadership regime will mean a less inclusive company culture. According to reports, Blackbird — the resource group for Black employees at Twitter, was axed on Friday. Founded by Shavone Charles, the ERG defines itself as a “safe place for community.”
For Bailey, the elimination of company-sanctioned ERGs is a clear indicator of the paradigm shift to come. “No one I’ve come across in the organization is excited about this change,” they said of Musk’s Twitter takeover.
If past leadership indicates Musk’s future performance, employees’ concerns about a less inclusive Twitter are not without merit. The billionaire business leader has been accused of fostering a toxic culture of racism. Earlier this year, 15 Black employees at Tesla filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
The Golden Age of Black Twitter is Likely Over.
Over the past 16 years, Twitter has been a galvanizing point for social justice campaigns. Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #SayHerName gained traction on Twitter and evolved into real-life movements.
Through social commentary, cultural criticism, and video documentation of social injustices posted in real-time on the platform, Twitter allowed everyday users to bring power to account.
“Elon taking over Twitter reminds me of when Scar took over Pride Rock,” Twitter user @aarickawash said.
“I was a Twitter user before I was an employee,” Cam said. “At the time, the work felt important.” Now, he says, the internal culture has taken a dark turn.
The days of Twitter as a voice for the voiceless are likely numbered.
Black users, employees, and verified influencers on the social media platform have reason to suspect the elimination of their seat at the proverbial table they helped create. Musk’s decision to sell verification to anyone willing to pay an $8 monthly fee, critics say, undermines the validity Twitter’s verification system was created to provide.
Under the cloak of “free speech,” many believe Musk’s takeover will annihilate Black Twitter and usher in a more racist and segregated era for the platform. In the days following Musk’s takeover, the use of the N-word on the platform reportedly surged by nearly 500%.
Prepare for a More Sinister Tone on Twitter
In addition to laying off employees across the company and cutting ERGs, Musk relaxed rules around content moderation. Some users Tweeted concerns over how this will alter the tone of the platform.
“Because we believe in free speech, Musky Twitter will no longer censor racist tweets. However, tweets referring to racism, white supremacy, or placing the word “white” next to the word “people” will automatically be flagged as hate speech. No Tesla slander will be allowed.”
Bailey says, under the new regime, air will be given to dangerous ideas as previous safeguards against “hate speech” are weakened.
“Not all ideas should have a platform because not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are more fleshed out and thoughtful than others. Some ideas have more logic than others. Some ideas have more research than others. And those are the ideas that rose to the surface in the prior regime,” Bailey said.
“Not to say that no ideas should be online, but there are some things that are just nonsensical and hateful,” they said.
While the future of Twitter remains uncertain, many users and employees say it’s fair to assume the platform’s golden era is likely over.
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