Twitter’s survival is at stake, Musk warns of end of remote work

Elon Musk warns Twitter employees to prepare for “tough times” that could end with the collapse of the social media platform if they don’t find new ways to make money.

Workers who survived last week’s mass layoffs are facing tougher working conditions and growing uncertainty about their ability to keep Twitter running safely as it continues to lose senior executives responsible for privacy, cybersecurity and compliance.

Musk’s first company-wide message to employees came via email late Wednesday night, urging them to stop working from home and show up at the office Thursday morning. This was followed by his first “all-hands” meeting on Thursday, where he addressed workers’ concerns. Before that, many relied on the billionaire Tesla CEO’s public tweets for clues about Twitter’s future.

“Sorry this is my first email to the entire company, but there’s no way to whitewash the message,” Musk wrote, before describing a poor economic climate for companies like Twitter, which rely almost entirely on advertising to make money.

“Without significant subscription revenue, there’s a good chance Twitter won’t survive the upcoming economic downturn,” Musk said. “We need about half of our subscription revenue.”

At Thursday afternoon’s staff meeting, Musk said some “exceptional” employees could request an exception to his return-to-work order, while others who didn’t like it could resign out of concern, according to a staffer at the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity about job security.

The employee also said Musk seemed to downplay employee concerns about how a reticent Twitter workforce is handling their obligations to comply with privacy and data security standards, and said as Tesla’s CEO, he knew how it worked.

Musk’s memo and staff meeting mirrored a livestream conversation Tried to reassure major advertisers on Wednesday, his most lengthy public comments about Twitter’s direction since he inked a $44 billion deal to buy the social media platform late last month and fired its top executives. A number of well-known brands have suspended advertising on Twitter to see what Musk’s proposals for relaxing anti-hate content rules look like and misinformation is affecting the tenor of the platform.

Musk told employees the “priority over the past 10 days” is the development and launch of Twitter’s new subscription service for $7.99 per month, which includes a blue tick next to the paying members’ names — the mark was previously only for verified accounts. Musk’s project had a bumpy rollout with an onslaught of newly purchased fake accounts this week posing as high-profile figures like basketball star LeBron JamesPosting false information or offensive jokes to former US President George W. Bush and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

In a second email to employees, Musk said the “absolute top priority” in the coming days is to ban “bots/trolls/spam” exploiting the verified accounts. But Twitter now employs far fewer people to help it do it.

An executive said last week Twitter had shed about 50% of its workforce, which was 7,500 earlier this year.

Musk had previously expressed his dislike for Twitter’s pandemic-era remote working policies, which allowed team leaders to decide whether employees had to show up to the office.

Musk told employees in the email that “remote work is no longer allowed” and that the road ahead is “arduous and requires intense work to be successful” and that they must be in the office at least 40 hours a week . He said he will personally review each exemption request.

Twitter hasn’t disclosed the total number of layoffs from its global workforce, but local and state officials in the US said it is shedding 784 employees at its San Francisco headquarters, about 200 elsewhere in California, more than 400 in New York City and more will be more than 200 in Seattle and about 80 in Atlanta.

The exodus at Twitter continues, including the company’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, and chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, who tweeted on Thursday that “I made the difficult decision to leave Twitter.”

Cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos, a former Facebook security chief, tweeted Thursday that there was a “serious risk of breach with drastically reduced staffing,” which could also put Twitter at odds with a 2011 Federal Trade Commission order issued by asked him to take serious action data security expires.

“Twitter has made great strides toward a more rational internal security model, and a backslide will land them in trouble with the FTC and other regulators in the US and Europe,” Stamos said.

The FTC said in a statement Thursday that it “follows recent developments on Twitter with grave concern.”

“No CEO or company is above the law, and companies are required to follow our consent regulations,” the agency’s statement said. “Our revised Consent Order gives us new tools to ensure compliance and we stand ready to use them.”

The FTC declined to say whether it is investigating Twitter for possible violations. If so, she has the authority to request documents and dismiss employees.

Twitter paid a $150 million penalty in May for violating the 2011 Consent Order, and its updated version introduced new procedures The company must implement an enhanced data protection program and improve information security.

These new procedures include an exhaustive list of disclosures that Twitter must make to the FTC when it introduces new products and services — particularly when they involve personally identifiable information it collects about users.

Musk is, of course, fundamentally revamping the platform offerings, and it’s unknown if he’ll be communicating this to the FTC. Twitter, which gutted its communications department, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Musk has taken on regulators in the past. “I don’t respect the SEC,” Musk declared in a 2018 tweet.

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently investigated his disclosures to the agency about his purchases of Twitter stock to accumulate a larger holding for possible delays. In 2018, Musk and Tesla agreed to pay $20 million in penalties over allegedly misleading tweets by Musk claiming he secured funding to buy the electric-car maker for $420 a share privatize. Musk has fought the SEC in court over compliance with the agreement.

The consequences of failing to meet FTC requirements can be dire — like when Facebook was fined $5 billion for data breaches.

“If Twitter even sneezes, they have to do a privacy review first,” tweeted Riana Pfefferkorn, a Stanford University researcher who said she previously advised Twitter outside of legal advice. “There are regular external audits and the FTC can monitor compliance.”

Twitter was fined in May for alleged commercial use of customer data — phone numbers and email addresses — which it said was needed for security purposes, such as enabling multi-factor authentication.


AP reporters Frank Bajak and Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.


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