Elon Musk at SpaceX launch

Musk’s Twitter in chaos, as office closes and more staff leave

Image credit: REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

The chances of Twitter being knocked offline have ‘dramatically increased’, according to an industry expert, as the company for which Elon Musk paid $44bn temporarily closed its office due to the high volume of exiting staff.

Hundreds of the firm's remaining staff rejected Musk’s ultimatum of agreeing to work "more intensely" in order to keep their jobs at the company, an industry expert has said. This standoff raises the very real possibility of Twitter being knocked offline, an event likelihood that has “dramatically increased” in the past 24 hours. 

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant and industry analyst, said it was unlikely the site would go down in the next few days, but he warned that the service was under increased strain as key engineers charged with maintaining the site have left the company, just as a major event for Twitter – the FIFA World Cup in Qatar – begins this weekend.

Concerns have grown over the site’s ability to stay online after Musk fired half of the company’s 7,500 workers, as well as a number of additional contractors.

Hundreds more staff members are now reported to have left of their own accord after not agreeing to an ultimatum from the billionaire this week that staying at the company to build a new “hardcore” Twitter would require longer, more intense working patterns.

Navarra said that Twitter was “already at greater risk” of falling offline because of the initial job cuts, but warned there had now been a “significant shift” in that risk because of the latest staff exodus.

“There are reports of teams that are critical for a number of Twitter’s infrastructure systems now being completely empty – those teams have been completely decimated,” Navarra told the PA news agency.

“Therefore, if there’s anything that goes wrong or breaks, or there’s a sudden surge in activity, then the capability of Twitter to repair it or troubleshoot it is greatly reduced because of the lack of skilled engineers that the teams have now.”

A number of high-profile Twitter users, including US vice president Kamala Harris, have begun pointing their followers to their accounts on other platforms amid speculation over Twitter's ability to stay online, with the hashtags #RIPTwitter and #GoodbyeTwitter also trending on the platform as many users leave the site.

Navarra said he believes the threat of an imminent blackout is unlikely because certain locks prevent changes to the platform’s base code while Musk reorganises the firm.

“There’s a code freeze in place and Twitter is kind of running on autopilot at the moment with its IT systems and that's a strategic move by Elon Musk to protect the stability of the platform while he figures out the next move,” Navarra said.

“With the World Cup coming up, that’s going to be real test of the resilience and capacity of Twitter to maintain a platform during a busy period.

“If there’s going to be a time when it is going to go offline, I think the greatest risk at the moment is going to be during some of the key moments of the World Cup.”

The staff exodus has also caused Twitter to temporarily close its offices, exacerbating the problems for the social media company. 

According to reports in the US, the social media giant has closed its offices until Monday (21 November) over fears that disgruntled staff could sabotage the company, following Musk's "hardcore" ultimatum and his threat that those who did not comply would be sacked.

The new Twitter boss sent an email to staff on Wednesday asking them to click yes on a form to confirm they would stay at the company under his new rules. Anyone who had not signed by Thursday evening would be let go and given three months’ severance pay.

The number of staff opting to leave appears to have taken Musk and his team by surprise.

The billionaire has now back pedalled on his insistence that everyone work full-time from the office, after his initial rejection of remote work alienated many remaining employees who survived the first round of layoffs.

Musk also softened his earlier tone in a follow-up email to employees, writing that “all that is required for approval is that your manager takes responsibility for ensuring you are making an excellent contribution”.

Workers would also be expected to have “in-person meetings with your colleagues on a reasonable cadence, ideally weekly, but not less than once per month”.

Since taking over Twitter less than three weeks ago, Musk has cut half of the company’s full-time staff of 7,500 and an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation and other crucial efforts.

Many have now taken to Twitter to say their goodbyes to colleagues, while there are reports of hundreds of staff confirming in private message channels that they are leaving.

Musk, also the Tesla and SpaceX boss, has himself continued to tweet throughout the ongoing turmoil, often mocking the concerns raised about the company by posting memes and jokes about the situation. “How do you make a small fortune in social media? Start with a large one,” he joked.

He also claimed that the concerns were driving more traffic on the site, saying overnight the company had “just hit another all-time high in Twitter usage”.

Earlier this week, Musk posted a photo of himself with two Twitter employees initially sacked but now apparently rehired, although the authenticity of the message has been called into question.

It has been reported that a number of Twitter staff were fired for criticising Elon Musk on internal employee message boards. This mirrors a similar situation reported at SpaceX – now escalated to a legal matter – where a group of employees claim their jobs were terminated with immediate effect after circulating an open letter questioning certain aspects of Musk's conduct.

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