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Twitter chaos spills into public view as Musk clashes with and fires employees on the platform

<i>CNN Photo Illustration/Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images</i><br/>Elon Musk has publicly clashed with a growing number of Twitter employees about the state of the platform.
CNN Photo Illustration/Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Elon Musk has publicly clashed with a growing number of Twitter employees about the state of the platform.

By Clare Duffy, Oliver Darcy and Donie O’Sullivan, CNN Business

Elon Musk has publicly clashed with a growing number of Twitter employees about the state of the platform, and fired at least one of them in a tweet, in an unusually visible sign of corporate chaos after his $44 billion takeover of the influential company.

Musk on Monday got into a dispute with software engineer Eric Frohnhoefer on Twitter that ended with the billionaire tweeting “he’s fired,” and Frohnhoefer confirming he’d lost access to Twitter’s internal systems. The public termination came after Frohnhoefer tweeted evidence suggesting that Musk was “wrong” about his claims that Twitter was running, in the billionaire’s words, “super slow” in various countries.

Frohnhoefer told CNN Monday night that he found out about the firing when a friend sent him Musk’s tweet and said that “no one even reached out to me from Twitter.” Frohnhoefer added that he had been “willing to give it a try” under Musk and described himself as “in the wait-and-see camp,” but that “everything that has been reported is true.” He described working for Musk as a “total sh*t show” and the current state of affairs as pure “chaos.”

At least one other employee who chimed in offering context on the issue had also been fired as of Tuesday morning, according to a tweet by that employee. And a handful of other Twitter employees said Tuesday on the platform that they were fired by an email that said their “behavior has violated company policy,” with some speculating that the move may have been a reaction to comments they made in internal Slack channels. Sources have indicated to CNN that employees in recent days had been very candid in criticism of Musk in the company’s Slack. (CNN has attempted to contact fired employees to confirm.)

In response to a tweet about news of the firings Tuesday, Musk said, “I would like to apologize for firing these geniuses. Their immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.”

The firings come after Musk slashed half of Twitter’s staff and, reportedly, many of its contractors, in a manner that many critics have described as slapdash and could put the platform at risk. Musk’s retribution for those who disagree with him also comes as he has cemented his control over the company by pushing out Twitter’s top execs and eliminating its board of directors.

In their absence, Musk is now running Twitter with the help of friends Jason Calacanis and David Sacks; his personal lawyer Alex Spiro; and, reportedly, engineers on loan from some of his other companies, including Tesla. In addition to the public pushback from employees, some Twitter staff appear to have tried to appeal to Musk and his inner circle privately as they weigh numerous disruptive changes to the platform.

An internal document obtained by CNN indicates that employees had raised concerns to Musk and others about some of the fallout that would likely occur if Twitter rolled out its new, $8-per-month paid verification service. The document, which is dated November 1 and proved prescient in its predictions, provides a list of recommendations for how to avoid the most extreme potential consequences of rolling out a subscription whereby anyone could pay $8 to receive a verified check mark.

“Legacy Verification provides a critical signal in enforcing impersonation rules, the loss of which is likely to lead to an increase in impersonation of high-profile accounts on Twitter,” the document states, adding that such issues could result in a loss of trust among high-profile users. It also raised concerns that the service could result in a “pay to play” system in which key voices that can’t or won’t pay for the subscription, such as “individuals in sanctioned countries (including dissenters and activists)” could be deprioritized.

Esther Crawford, a Twitter product manager who is reportedly now leading its Twitter Blue subscription service update, was briefed on the document ahead of last week’s rollout the paid verification option, as was Musk and his lawyer Alex Spiro, a source told CNN. The digital news outlet Platformer was the first to report details of the document.

Within hours of the paid verification system launching last week, Twitter was hit with a wave of celebrity and corporate impersonators on its platform who quickly gamed the system, potentially adding to growing uncertainty among advertisers, who make up nearly all of Twitter’s business. The paid subscription service was suspended on Friday with little warning. It was not immediately clear when the company might restore the offering.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to a criticism of Musk from one Twitter user who described himself as an employee on the platform, but he does not in fact work for the company.

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