If you wanted to be a fly on the wall during the first Twitter All Hands meeting after the platform accepted Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid, you’re in luck.
Audio from Twitter’s company-wide call about its drastic change from being a publicly-traded company to a billionaire-owned, private entity was leaked by the conservative activist group, Project Veritas, on YouTube. The group, of course, has a bone to pick with Twitter, as its right-wing founder James O’Keefe was booted from Twitter last year for platform manipulation and spam. The group also has a history of deceptive reporting practices, including the use of misleading video edits.
While Twitter declined to comment on the leak, the dialogue appears to be consistent with prior reports about the call. And while Twitter CMO Leslie Berland tweeted that an audio clip from the meeting has been “leaked, edited and misrepresented as [hers] (and the company’s) views,” it appears she may have been responding to a tweet that showed an edited clip of the audio leak, not the full version. In this short clip, it was not clear that Berland was reading questions from employees, as opposed to speaking on her own behalf. The full leak of the meeting audio makes it clear the questions are coming from employees.
Over the forty-five-minute discussion, CEO Parag Agrawal and independent board chair Bret Taylor fielded the employees’ questions, which were relayed via CMO Leslie Berland. Many of the answers, however, were some version of “we need to ask Elon about that.”
Until the deal closes, which could take up to six months, Agrawal said, “[Twitter] will continue making decisions as we always have, guided by the principles we’ve had, which doesn’t mean things won’t change. Things have been changing. I’ve been in this role for four months,” Agrawal explained. “Once the deal closes, different decisions might be made. For us to gain insight into that, we’ll be finding a way to have Elon talk with all of you at the soonest possible opportunity,” he said.
Still, the questions that employees asked indicated real concern about how the deal would affect their day-to-day work priorities, compensation and stock options, and job security. As previously reported, Agrawal told employees that there would be “no layoffs at this time,” which isn’t the most assuring possible response. When asked about a potential hiring freeze, Agrawal said that the company hadn’t yet thought through the answer to that question.
Another concern among employees is how Elon Musk’s desire to cultivate “free speech” will affect the platform’s guidelines. Twitter currently bans hate speech, spam, targeted harassment, COVID-19 misinformation and attempts to manipulate a political election. But Musk has indicated that he wants Twitter’s policies to match that of the law — a statement that doesn’t totally hold up for a private social network used in many different countries.
An employee asked for more clarity on what Musk may have meant by “free speech.” Agrawal said everyone understood what free speech meant, as it’s a concept that’s existed for a while.
“But I think I am going to try and read the question behind the question here, which is, where might Twitter’s product go as a private company in the future once the deal closes?” Agrawal continued. His answer indicated that Twitter wasn’t entirely clear on that point at this time.
“To best gain perspective on this…we’ll find ways to bring Elon in for a Q&A with all of you,” he said, adding that the leadership team would also sit down with Musk to better understand the “his vision for the future of Twitter might look like.”
Hinting at possible differences of opinion with Twitter’s new owner, Agrawal also expressed the desire to have “a two-way dialogue” with Musk where Twitter’s leadership could “inform and educate him on the work we have done, and the things we have learned along the way.” Reading between the lines of the comment, even in its heavily massaged corporate-speech format, it seems that Twitter’s current leadership doesn’t believe Musk has a deep understanding of why Twitter has taken the actions it has with regard to moderation.
Optimistically, Agrawal added Twitter’s leadership would be looking to understand Musk’s “ambitions and aspirations” in order to “see how we can best collaborate.” (Of course, there are already questions being raised as to whether or not Agrawal would be the one Musk will be “collaborating” with, given Musk’s statements in an earlier SEC filing about how he did not “have confidence in [Twitter’s] management.)
An employee also asked if President Trump’s account will be reinstated, but Agrawal didn’t give a direct answer here either. Although Trump himself has said he doesn’t want to return to Twitter, his mind could change.
“I think we’ve been doing our work to learn about what’s happening out there. We constantly evolve our policies. We make decisions for the health of the public conversation every day,” he said. “Once the deal closes, we don’t know which direction the platform will go in.”
It sounds like Musk will get to make that call, in other words.
Another employee noted that Musk has said that part of why he bought the platform was because he disagreed with their content moderation policies. “This puts Twitter Service, and Trust and Safety, as well as anybody who cares about health on the platform in a very difficult position,” the question, relayed by Berland, said. The employee asked how these teams will be supported when Musk assumes power.
Agrawal began his response by first touting the work Twitter had done to keep conversations safe, free from manipulation and from spam. The latter, however, is one of Musk’s larger complaints with the service today, which has been unable to get a handle on the bots and spammers, including more recently, the crypto spammers who often flood Musk’s Twitter replies.
Agrawal then complimented the teams that work to keep Twitter safe, but he added, “I believe there is a lot of work we have to do to continue making that better. Sometimes that means more thoughtful moderation, sometimes that means making things simpler, sometimes that means changing product incentives to be able to solve problems through products sometimes instead of policies.”
For now, Musk’s takeover bid for Twitter remains subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.
If you’re a Twitter employee or former employee with more information, please send tips to [email protected], or contact via Signal, an encrypted messaging app, at 929 593 0227.
Additional reporting: Sarah Perez