Life Under Musk: Two Twitter Employees Speak Out

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email transcripts@nytimes.com with any questions.

casey newton

So Kevin, I’ve noticed something about a lot of the people running Twitter right now.

kevin roose

What would that be?

casey newton

OK. So you know David Sacks, Jason Calacanis, Sriram Krishnan have all been sort of volunteered into this war room to help Elon run the company.

kevin roose

Right, they are members of the Elon Musk Twitter brain trust.

casey newton

And if you’ve heard their names before, maybe it’s because they’re venture capitalists. They’re sort of known in that field.

kevin roose

But they’re also something else. They’re podcasters.

casey newton

Podcasters, baby.

And that means that for the first time in history, we have a social network that’s effectively being run by podcasters.

kevin roose

This is our moment. This is our opening. I think the deal is if we spend three weeks at the top of the tech podcast charts, we officially run Twitter.

casey newton

That’s right.

kevin roose

Is that how this works?

casey newton

Yes. Every reporter’s dream — to run Twitter.

[THEME MUSIC]

kevin roose

I’m Kevin Roose, tech columnist for “The New York Times.”

casey newton

And I’m Casey Newton, from Platformer.

kevin roose

And you’re listening to “Hard Fork.”

So usually, on this podcast, we’re going to try to bring people news from around the tech industry, give a more comprehensive sense of what’s happening in Silicon Valley. But right now, the only story that anyone in tech cares about is what’s happening just down the street from us in San Francisco, at Twitter.

We’re going to talk to two Twitter employees, or at least two people who were Twitter employees, as of Wednesday morning — not sure what their status is going to be by the time you hear this — about what’s happening inside of Twitter. And we’re going to let you hear them, or hear, to be precise, an AI-generated version of them.

So what we’re going to do is talk to them, like have a normal interview. But instead of playing you their voice, which would de-anonymize them and risk getting them in trouble or getting them fired, we are going to transcribe what they say. And then, we’re going to feed those words back into a text-to-speech AI generator and play you an AI-generated version of their voice.

And we should say up front, like, these voices — they’re not going to sound 100 percent exactly human. It’s going to be a little weird and, frankly, robotic. But just remember, as you listen, that these words were spoken by actual human Twitter employees, and that this is really the only way to get them on the record and get a real picture of what’s happening inside Twitter right now.

casey newton

I like that when we started this show, we said we would never put on AI voices unless we had a really good reason and a really limited capacity. And now, twice in five episodes —

— we’ve been like, and now, here are the AI voices.

kevin roose

Well, you were wrong about Elon buying Twitter, and you were wrong about this not being a podcast filled with robot podcasters. So two strikes for Casey.

But before we get to those interviews, let’s just go over what’s been happening at Twitter this week. Because it has been one crazy thing after another. Casey, on Friday, after our emergency podcast, you reported that Twitter engineers inside the company had been instructed to print out the last 30 to 60 days’ worth of code that they had written, for review.

casey newton

Yeah. And this is one of the — sometimes as a reporter, you get a tip that sounds so silly, that you think, well, this couldn’t possibly be true. So when I got this tip that Elon and his people were telling people, print out your last 30 to 60 days of code, I thought, well, that can’t be true.

And in fact, two of my sources are like, uh, Casey, that doesn’t sound right to me. OK? But then, I start texting around, start getting on the phone with some folks, and then the two people that told me that I was wrong came back to me and said, oh my god, he’s actually asking people to print out their code!

So why is this funny? Why is this interesting? This is a weird way to evaluate how good someone is as a software engineer. People are generally not evaluated by how much code they’ve written, right?

If you show up with a printout of 100 pages of code, that’s not necessarily a good thing. You might have done better for the company by eliminating some code, right? And then, sort of streamlining it. So —

kevin roose

Also, who prints code? Like, it’s not like — like, I was surprised that the coding programs actually have a Print button in them. Because that’s, like, not what you’re bringing to your daily review of your code.

casey newton

Right. Also, they had just been in this situation where their former chief security officer was complaining that they had really lax security practices and filed this whistleblower complaint. And now, the fact that all the Twitter engineers are just printing out the code base and leaving it around Twitter headquarters —

kevin roose

Incredible.

casey newton

It’s like, two hours later, they get — all the Twitter folks get this new notification. It’s like, change of plans. Elon and his folks, they still want to see your code. But why don’t you just bring it in on your laptop, and if you have printed out any code, we’re going to need you to shred it.

So all the Twitter engineers have to run to the paper shredder on the 10th floor, I believe, and just start shredding the code base.

kevin roose

I mean, this sounds — honestly, it’s a little — it’s giving Dunder Mifflin.

Like, there’s just this boss in charge who, like, doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing, and everyone’s just kind of humoring him. But it’s not — it’s not the kind of thing that usually happens at a big tech company.

casey newton

It’s not. Now, one thing that we should say is that the Elon folks are obsessed with figuring out who is a good engineer at the company, right? So Elon very much worships at the altar of the engineer. He considers himself an engineer.

And so I’ve talked to folks who are getting calls late at night from random Tesla engineers, saying things like, who’s really good on your team? Who are the top performers? Who are the low performers?

And so this code printout exercise, as ridiculous as it seems, was all part of this sort of evaluation system where they’ve been trying to figure out, who at this company do we need to keep in order to keep the service running?

kevin roose

And who can we lay off? That’s sort of the unspoken piece of this. OK, so we have this code printing fiasco. Then, on Sunday, you reported that Twitter was considering tying verifications to Twitter Blue subscriptions, and explain what that means.

casey newton

Yes, so Twitter Blue is a subscription service that gives you access to a handful of other features. You can see the top articles of the day. You have this new test feature that lets you edit tweets.

We don’t know how many people subscribe to Twitter Blue. The company has never released a metric. What we know is that 89 percent of this company’s revenues comes from digital advertising, and the bulk of the rest comes from of selling access to their API.

So Twitter Blue, however many people subscribe to it, has never been a major source of revenue. But the Elon folks who are under this huge pressure to start making money in a hurry have been looking for new revenue ideas. And one revenue idea that came up, basically right away, was to make people pay for Twitter Blue in order to keep their verification badges.

Twitter Blue costs $5 a month. A few hours after I wrote that story, Alex Heath at “The Verge” reported that they were considering charging up to $20 a month to keep the verification badge. And I think it’s fair to say that made the entire Twitter timeline just melt down.

kevin roose

Yeah. People, including Stephen King, the horror author — he tweeted, ”$20 a month to keep my blue check? If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.”

casey newton

Wait, let me just say, Stephen King has written about some of the most terrifying horrors imaginable, and nothing scared him more than the idea of paying $20 a month for his verification badge.

Move over, It!

kevin roose

So let’s take a moment and talk about this idea of paying for verification on Twitter, because I think it’s an interesting idea. It seems to be, kind of, their big first idea for how to change Twitter’s business. So right now, the way that people get verified on Twitter is sort of mysterious.

I got verified, like, a decade ago, because someone at the news company that I worked at put my name on a list, and all of a sudden, I had a checkmark by my name.

casey newton

Same for me.

kevin roose

And I think that’s how a lot of journalists get verified. But there’s also a process. You can ask to be verified if you’re a celebrity or something. And the reason the verification exists, we should say — like, it’s not about a status marker.

It’s not about, this person’s important. It was literally created because people like Oprah were joining Twitter many, many years ago, and there were already a ton of impostors on Twitter, saying that they were people like Oprah. And so Twitter needed a way to basically allow users to tell whether the person they were talking to was actually the person they purported to be.

casey newton

Yeah, and I think it’s fair to say, this is a necessary feature of the platform. Every platform that is social in some way has a feature like this — Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, right? You need a way to say, this is the real Oprah, and that is not the real Oprah.

You know, Twitter verification started because Tony La Russa, the baseball manager, sued the company, because he was being impersonated. And he was basically like, this is harmful to my reputation, that you have these fake Tony La Russas running around. So it’s only natural that such a thing would exist. And now, the question is, are you really going to charge people for that privilege of just not being impersonated?

kevin roose

Right. And I think it’s fair to say that over the years, like, people have come to see these checkmarks next to your Twitter name as sort of a status symbol, right? Like, it means that you’re someone, it means that it —

casey newton

It means that you’re worth impersonating.

kevin roose

Right, exactly. And so I think the idea initially coming out of the Elon war room was that people who were verified cared so much about being verified and staying verified, that they would pay for the privilege. And so that’s where we get this idea of $20 a month for verification.

Now, that almost immediately results in, as you said, an entire Twitter timeline meltdown, where users are saying, no way will we pay $20 a month. That’s more than I pay for Netflix. That’s more than I pay for YouTube.

Like, just to keep my little check mark — like, that seems insane. Subsequently, Elon responds to Stephen King on Twitter and says, we need to pay the bills somehow. Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8? So Stephen King has become the pricing consultant for Twitter verification.

casey newton

I just love the idea that Elon is haggling with Stephen King over the price like it’s, like, tomatoes at a farmer’s market, you know?

kevin roose

Well, here’s my theory about it, real quick, is that I think that inside Elon world, and inside, frankly, a lot of right-wing sort of circles, there’s this idea of the blue checks, right? People on Fox News and other conservative media outlets are always talking about this sort of, like, blue check mob of people on Twitter, mostly journalists and other media figures, who are sort of, like, self-important and care very deeply about their checkmarks.

And so for them, this seems like a way to make money, while at the same time, kind of punishing the blue checkmarks, which is just very, very different from how other social media platforms treat their creators.

casey newton

Yeah. I mean, look, I have to say, I have long been in favor of letting anyone who wants to verify themselves part of this plan. It’s not just making people pay to keep their badge. It’s also that if you pay, you could get a badge.

And I think it would be good for Twitter and most social networks if anybody wanted to optionally verify their identity. Like, that would be good for the credibility of the ecosystem overall. But it does come with a lot of questions that, so far, have mostly gone unanswered.

kevin roose

And it also just seems to me, like — I’m trying to keep an open mind. This could work. I have often thought that people who are power users of Twitter should be paying something for some of the features that are being talked about here.

It does create a lot of economic value for people like you and me. It does matter to us. News organizations pay for all kinds of software solutions that help them do various things. Maybe Twitter Blue should be part of that.

But it also seems strange, because it’s just not that big a moneymaking idea. So I was doing some back-of-the-envelope math on this. So right now, there are about 400,000 people who are verified on Twitter. That’s sort of the latest number that we have.

If all of those people pay $8 a month to keep their check marks, that’s $38 million a year, roughly. Twitter’s second-quarter revenue was $1.18 billion. So this is a drop in the bucket, even if everyone who is currently verified on Twitter pays $8 a month, which I don’t think they will.

And then, say, you get even that many more new people who are paying to get verified for the first time. Say, you have 800,000 people paying for verification. That’s still only about $80 million a year, which is frankly not that much to a company like Twitter.

casey newton

Now, apparently, Elon did say something, like they’re going to have maybe some sort of separate legacy verification program for — I don’t know — government entities that aren’t going to pay the $8 a month. So there’s still a lot of details to be worked out here.

But if it seems like we’re taking a long time talking about this, again, worth saying that because Twitter is where so many folks go to get their news and information, it matters that we know who is who on that service. And so it’s like, if they’re starting to charge for it, if they’re introducing this new confusion into it, then the risk is that within a month or so, there’s just going to be way more misinformation, confusion, hoaxes, and scams on Twitter, because nobody knows who’s who.

kevin roose

Right. So that’s not all that happened at Twitter this week. We’ve also had a number of other executives departing. Chief Customer Officer Sarah Personette resigned. A number of other senior Twitter executives have also announced that they are leaving.

One other idea that’s been floated from the Elon brain trust is bringing back Vine. Casey, how do you feel about that?

[CASEY SIGHS]

casey newton

Well, look, I loved Vine. People are very nostalgic about Vine for a reason. It kind of ushered in the era of short-form video that we’re living in now. And I think many folks listening to the show can probably recite several Vines from memory.

For me, it’s back at it again at the Krispy Kreme, one of the great moments of culture for the past 10 years. At the same time, the culture has also moved on. The code base for Vine is 10 years old, and the idea that it is now going to be revived and turn into a TikTok competitor — that’s a really steep hill.

I would also say, like, not an immediate revenue driver, right? That’s something they’re just going to have to put a ton of effort into. You’re essentially launching a new social network within Twitter. So that’s a huge, heavy lift. I think it could be fun to have a very popular American short-form video network that wasn’t owned by Facebook or YouTube. But we’ll just have to see if they can do it.

kevin roose

Yeah. So that’s the other big idea coming out of Elon’s brain trust. And underneath all of these changes and announcements and changes to the announcements, there’s just been this atmosphere of total chaos and confusion inside Twitter, as engineers and other Twitter employees are getting extraordinary demands to make changes much more quickly than they otherwise would have.

casey newton

That’s right. They’re being told, you have days to ship this. If this does not ship by this date, in some cases, a date next week, you will be fired. If it is one hour past deadline, you will be fired.

So people are sleeping very little. They are sleeping in their offices, and frankly, some of them are terrified. Some of them are here on work visas. If they lose this job, they have 60 days to find another job, or they’re out of the country. So it could not be more serious for the folks who have these jobs.

kevin roose

A very, very stressful time, and frankly, an unprecedented time. I’ve never heard about anything like this happening at a major tech company. And so we have, coming up, interviews with two current Twitter employees who are there witnessing this all from the inside, and we’ll talk to them right after the break.

Great. And then, just the plan is to transcribe your voice, and then feed it back into some kind of — we have an AI text-to-speech.

mockingjay

Awesome. Thank you. I’m probably getting fired today, but don’t need to expedite that or get sued.

kevin roose

Right. And I just want to remind folks real quick, you are hearing a computer-generated voice, but behind that voice is a real person.

OK, so what should we call you?

mockingjay

I had suggested Mockingjay, like from “The Hunger Games.”

kevin roose

Welcome to “Hard Fork,” Mockingjay. So it is about 10:00 AM Pacific on Wednesday right now. How’s your day going so far? Anything notable happen today?

mockingjay

Every day seems to be the same cycle for the last week, which is everybody wakes up to more panicked messages via various different channels. I think most people have been smart enough to move off of Slack and into other channels. And it is this up-and-down of trying to chase rumors, because we have had zero communications from anybody internally.

In fact, there has been more external communication to Twitter.com than there has been to Twitter, the employees. So everything is just based on rumor. So we wake up. We look at all of our various channels, we look at what our friends are messaging us, and we cross our fingers and hope to make it through another day.

kevin roose

So what’s that been like for you? What’s your emotional state?

mockingjay

Stressful. I feel like between trying to maintain this job that I have currently, while clearly looking for a way out, while having zero support and acknowledgment from the people above me, is very stressful. Already, there have been multiple rumor mill-based scares.

First, of course, was that layoffs are supposed to happen Monday. They didn’t happen. Now, the rumor has it it’s going to be Friday. It’s exhausting. I know we are all paid really well.

Most of us have some savings to sit on. Some people don’t. But it is also just nerve-racking not to know, especially as we’re entering a really tough hiring market in tech. And also, we’re entering the holidays.

kevin roose

So just to really underline that, you have a new CEO at your company. Most of the C-suite has either been fired or resigned, and you have not received one email that says, here’s who’s in charge, and here’s the game plan for the next few days.

mockingjay

That is 100% accurate. We have received zero information, other than what gets trickled down to us. Comms is incredibly sparse. There is really nobody answering, even messages in the company-wide channels.

casey newton

And so what is that like, when, day to day, you wake up, and it’s almost like a scavenger hunt across seven different apps, just to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing?

mockingjay

It’s complete chaos. Some people are panicking. Some people are helping each other. Some people are throwing other people around them under the bus.

You have probably heard, and you have been reporting on some of the infamous code reviews. I have seen examples of people saying that code was written entirely by them and not crediting people who collaborated with them, all in hope that they will be on some preferred status list.

casey newton

So people are sort of overstating their contributions in hopes of keeping their jobs.

mockingjay

Absolutely. What they are asking for is volume, not quality. So everybody is sharing every little bit of code they have ever written, no matter how insignificant or garbage it is. [SIGHS]

casey newton

Yeah, I reported on a message from a manager who said, basically, if you don’t know what you’re working on right now, work on something. Work on anything.

Just code a project. What have you always wanted to code? Show it to Elon. See what he thinks. At worst, you’ll get some feedback.

mockingjay

There was also a discussion about identifying cool code.

casey newton

What!

mockingjay

I genuinely do not know what that means, and I don’t know who is the arbiter of cool in this situation.

kevin roose

Wait. Tell us more.

casey newton

What is cool code?

mockingjay

That’s all I know. I don’t know anything else. I think people are just grasping at straws to retain some semblance of order.

casey newton

I want to read you a post that someone had sent me from Blind. Blind is this app where you sort of log in with your work email, and then you can have these pseudonymous chats about what’s happening at your company.

And multiple people have sent me this post. And I wonder if you’ve seen it. And I’m not going to read the whole thing. But the headline is “I can’t cope.”

And it reads, “I’m on the 24/7 team working to make all of Elon’s ridiculous dreams come true. Management have repeatedly threatened to fire us if we miss delivery, even if it’s totally outside our control. If we don’t work at weekends, we’re gone. If we take PTO or leave, we’re gone.

People are working ridiculous hours. I’m working around 20 hours per day at absolutely full velocity. I’m waking up in the night to attend status calls. Even when I’m not working, I can’t stop worrying about it. I can’t cope. I’m an absolute mess. I’m at a breaking point. This is after just a few days of Elon.”

How closely does that track with what you are hearing and seeing from your colleagues?

mockingjay

So there are two camps at Twitter right now, the people who are being completely ignored until they get fired and the people who are being pulled into these task forces. I think the better place is to be in the people who are being ignored and will be fired.

My heart goes out to this person. I hope they are able to find gainful employment, and in that four hours while they are trying to sleep and take care of themselves, applying to jobs.

And I sincerely hope that there is care taken for people who are on visas. All of the people I know who are here on visas have no idea what will happen to them. And they have not been told anything.

So this is more than just privileged tech people crying because we’re moving from one six-figure salary to another six-figure salary. These are people who are trying to immigrate to this country and have gainful employment and do a good job, who are highly skilled.

casey newton

And what do you make of the characterization that has come from Elon and people around him that Twitter is this kind of bloated, overstaffed, slow-moving company where everything takes way too long to ship, where there’s kind of a culture of sitting on your hands and not really doing much, and where with some quick, decisive action, you could really trim some fat and reestablish the company and make it profitable?

mockingjay

So there is a lot to that I do not necessarily disagree with. I think Twitter, at the end of the day, is structured very poorly. This goes back to a lack of operational leadership, which has been existent in the company for many years. This company does not have good operations, and it shows.

So I do not think, though, it is because engineers and people are sitting on their hands. I think it is because the way this company is structured, it is nearly impossible to get anything done, whether it is trying to get the appropriate approvals by and going through Byzantine processes, literally not being told how things are changing from day to day. So there is some truth to that statement. This is the absolute wrong way to deal with it.

casey newton

You know, on one level, working at Twitter is just a job. But I know from so many of the employees who I’ve spoken to who work there, there is a real sense of inspiration around the mission of a company that does want to democratize communication, give more people a voice.

And I wonder, as you’ve been going through all this, if you have been thinking about the degree to which that could be at risk, and what fears you might have around the future of Twitter the service?

mockingjay

Any company, Twitter included, is a function of its people. And the people who have always been drawn to Twitter are kind of strange in the best way possible. It’s not something you really know until you work at the company. And those people are all the ones who are going to leave. Those are not the people who are going to stay. So all of that is gone.

kevin roose

And what do you think will happen to Twitter the product in the next few months? Where do you see this heading?

mockingjay

I would love to think that everybody on Twitter is going to leave in protest. But the reality of the situation is a lot of people may stay. But it’s going to be interesting to see who stays.

Twitter had already leaned more towards different communities from what made Twitter. Some very small percentage of people on Twitter generate all the tweets, right? So even pre-Elon, we’re already starting from a place where it’s actually a very fragile community, a very, very few people creating all of the content that everybody else sits and consumes.

Now that community is being shifted and changed. Heavy tweeters have been leaving the platform. And it’s not just people leaving the platform. The content that is popular on the platform is changing towards more niche communities. So there is part of this that was an unfortunate direction that Twitter, pre-Elon, was already headed in anyway.

So we’ll see. It’ll be interesting to see who stays and who goes. But I think the heart of Twitter will be gone.

kevin roose

So just to put a fine point on it, you’re planning to be fired in the next couple of days, correct?

mockingjay

That is my expectation. Yes. And that is most of Twitter’s expectation.

kevin roose

And have you thought about how you’ll feel if and when that happens?

mockingjay

Scared and relieved. It will be scary to not have income. But at the same time, I hope that all of us who get fired will just get to chill out for a day or so, and then wake up on a couple of days later and say, all right, got to get that resume out there. Got to be energized about these other jobs, because right now it’s sucking the life out of us.

kevin roose

Yeah. Well, I’m really grateful for your time and willingness to chat with us about this.

casey newton

Me too.

kevin roose

And I’m sorry you’re going through this.

mockingjay

Thank you.

[LIGHT CHIMES]

kevin roose

When we come back, a Twitter engineer on how long it would normally take to make the changes Elon Musk wants to see.

casey newton

All right. What should we call you?

fulcrum

Let’s use Fulcrum.

casey newton

Fulcrum. All right, Fulcrum. Welcome to “Hard Fork.” Can you say how long you’ve worked at Twitter?

fulcrum

Quite a few years.

casey newton

OK. And can you share anything about what kind of work you do at Twitter?

fulcrum

I’m an engineer, software developer.

casey newton

OK. What has the past week been like for you?

fulcrum

Intense and uninformed.

casey newton

Let’s maybe start with intensity. What has felt intense about these past few days?

fulcrum

Uncertainty. There are people who aren’t even certain if they should continue doing the work they’re doing. And that pile of unknowns, along with the things that have been reported on, which is all the information we really have, it leads to this cognitive dissonance and just general constant stress.

casey newton

What was the culture of this company like before Elon Musk showed up? Like, what has it generally been like to work at Twitter?

fulcrum

Twitter has gone through phases in its lifetime. But at least leading up to this whole fiasco, I can’t think of a better place to work. People were respectful. People were honest. And people had legitimate goals.

I mean, even in the lowest parts of engineering, people would raise privacy concerns or potential misuse of new features. And their only job is to write random code that no one’s ever going to see, just like the piping behind the scenes. And the company just always kind of had a culture of letting people speak to these things. And more often than not, it caught us on issues before it ever made it to the public like.

casey newton

And how did news that Elon Musk was going to buy the company start to change the way it felt inside?

fulcrum

That’s complicated because no one really knew. I mean, I guess there was sort of groupthink that existed that was this guy was not a nice person. You know, there were a lot of people that were of the thought that this should probably have been banned a long time ago for his behavior. And everything just sort of came from there.

kevin roose

And this idea that Elon Musk and his inner circle seem to have, that Twitter is full of coddled, unproductive people who are left wing political activists who just want to censor people on the right, what do you make of that impression that he and his friends seem to have of who works at Twitter and why?

fulcrum

I mean, he’s certainly been more aggressively attaching himself to various political viewpoints and their talking points. And if it serves him, he’ll lean into it.

I will say, having been there for a number of years, the company has grown in a lot of ways, and some not so good. I don’t disagree with people when they say there’s probably too many managers, too many engineers. Maybe delivery is a little too slow. Management has never been the company’s strong point.

So that aside, you don’t go through any change like this without some massive structural change. If he just came in and did the same thing, like, what’s the point?

kevin roose

Yeah.

casey newton

OK. So there’s an idea there that Twitter should be moving faster than it has been. We’ve been hearing that Elon is saying, ship this thing by next Monday or else you are going to be fired. As an engineer, when you hear that you have a three – or four-day deadline, what does that do to you?

fulcrum

I lose my mind. I mean, having a three – to four-day deadline on something because priorities shifted, we need to have this done by Friday, that’s normal. That’s a little stressful. Might put in a couple extra hours. Need to get it done. Makes sense.

But I think the major differentiator here is just the sheer scale. I wouldn’t get asked at work to completely revamp Twitter Blue by Friday. That’s just completely absurd.

And the sheer number of systems that need to be touched on, the number of engineers that have to be dragged in, that’s like raising the Titanic from the bottom of the ocean.

casey newton

Because it’s not as if there’s just a certain set of code that needs to be written. You also have to coordinate across presumably dozens of engineers, product managers, and lots of other folks, right?

fulcrum

Yeah. Well, I mean, if you look at some of the feature sets that have been reported on that he wants to add in, like ranking blue check users higher than others, where that ranking occurs in the stack. They have to completely reshift how that entire process works. There are whole services in the company that we have to go figure out.

kevin roose

Right. And for people who aren’t engineers and don’t know, how long would these changes normally take at Twitter to implement?

casey newton

Yeah. Like if somebody had come to you and said, we want to redo Twitter Blue, what would be the time frame that you would be given that would make you say, yeah, that seems like a reasonable amount of time to do that?

fulcrum

It depends. If the change requires a ton of infrastructure changes, it could take quite a while because the Twitter platform is generally pretty slow. We’re more concerned with reliability than we are moving fast.

But feature-wise, I guess if I had to give a round-about time frame, there would probably be something that could possibly be deployed within a quarter to two quarters.

casey newton

So three to six months. And the deadline this team has been given is Monday.

fulcrum

Yeah. Because you also have to keep in mind, these changes are pretty structural to the service.

And not only is this an engineering problem, it’s a social problem. We need to do testing. We need to figure out how this can be abused. What are people going to do with it? What are the Bitcoin bros going to do to try to steal more of people’s money abusing this feature?

kevin roose

Right. And that’s what goes on with all major releases at a big social network, is trying to figure out, we change this feature, what are the 10 other things that happen? And you’re essentially saying it sounds like that these deadlines are so short that this stuff may be released without any of that testing or scrutiny, that sort of trying to figure out what could go wrong. They’re just going to be set loose.

fulcrum

Yeah. I mean, I’ve read the design docs that exist as of right now. And the spaces for that information and that work are empty.

kevin roose

Wow.

casey newton

[LAUGHS]: Wait. They are just blank spots in the, how could this be abused, section?

fulcrum

Yeah. There’s one section about user privacy and privacy data. And it’s basically, we’re not doing anything with user data, so we don’t worry about that. And then now it’s just a blue check on a profile.

kevin roose

Wow.

So you said that there’s been very little communication from managers and executives at Twitter in the past week. What has been communicated? What’s happening?

fulcrum

So there’s a couple of things. And it depends on where you are in the leadership stack, as far as Musk and his people. Generally the one overarching message that did get communicated was, find something cool that you like. And hopefully Musk likes it functionally.

casey newton

[LAUGHS]: So it’s like — it’s become this kind of hackathon show-and-tell project?

fulcrum

Yeah. One of my coworkers put it as “hack week, but with a gun to your head.”

kevin roose

That’s dark.

fulcrum

Think about it. If you present him an idea and he thinks it’s cool, he wants it done within a week. And you’ve basically just sacrificed every team around you.

kevin roose

[LAUGHS]:

casey newton

Wow.

kevin roose

God. I’m curious what you make of the various product changes that have been floated or proposed by Elon Musk and his inner circle, such as the charging $8 a month for Twitter verification, bringing back Vine. What do you make of those proposals? And do you think they’re good ideas?

fulcrum

That’s kind of the hard part. It kind of hurts my soul every time I agree with Musk. There are certain things he’s done that kind of made sense.

I mean, one of the first decisions he made was to redirect the logged-out view to the Explore page. And I don’t know this for certain, but my basic understanding of the goal here was that we might even be able to serve ads to people that aren’t logged in.

casey newton

And so just real quick, so what that means is, before Musk, when you were not logged into Twitter, you’d just basically see a box asking you to log in.

Now, if you go to Twitter and you’re not logged in, they’ll show you a bunch of tweets which might entice you to sign in, create an account. And if you linger and browse through some tweets, maybe you see some ads, right? So that was a relatively quick change that he made that I think a lot of people would agree makes some sense.

fulcrum

Yeah. At the very least, it was worth trying.

casey newton

And what about some of his other ideas?

fulcrum

The Vine one, it’s not the worst idea. I mean, the cynical part of me says, too little, too late. You know? TikTok is TikTok, and that’s a mighty hill to climb.

But sure. I mean, we do have all the original content from Vine. So marketing-wise, the nostalgia factor is huge, which gives us kind of a foothold to at least launch something.

I really find it completely patently absurd to try to bring back Vine proper. That code base is so ancient. Good luck.

But we at least have the media, and trying to build a product like that, we’ve been working on that for a while. I think every tech company has at least tried. Is this something we can do? There’s been mock-ups.

casey newton

So even before Musk, you all were talking about bringing back some sort of short form video something under the Vine brand.

fulcrum

Yeah. I mean, video has been on the radar and sort of talked about for years.

kevin roose

When they inevitably make the movie about what’s happening at Twitter now —

casey newton

Who do you want to play you?

kevin roose

[LAUGHS]: No. Well, who do you want to play you? But also, what are some of the big scenes from the last week?

fulcrum

It’d probably be the most boring. You could probably make a really interesting ethereal horror movie out of just constantly walking around with nothing.

One of those films that has no audio, no dialogue.

kevin roose

You mean because everyone’s working from home, or because it’s quiet? Or what do you mean?

fulcrum

There’s no communications. So the only people talking are people in a corner. But it’s not like, oh, the whole company went to an all-hands and learned what’s happening. It’s everybody asking, are we ever going to see him? Should I keep doing my work? Do they even serve lunch anymore?

casey newton

So as we’re recording this, we don’t know what might happen to your job. As you think about it, do you want to be working at Twitter in three months? Or do you feel like you’re ready to be somewhere else?

fulcrum

I won’t be staying at Twitter in the long term.

casey newton

Why not?

fulcrum

Culture is real. I mean, culture seeps through the product. For all of Twitter’s faults, a lot of the way the company behaved was because people cared so much. And that can be infuriating in its own ways.

I mean, people have seen this. So now we’re moving into the phase equivalent to “move fast and break things,” with no care for the people who are using it, which just sort of defeats the point.

casey newton

I mean, what are your friends and family texting you? What kinds of messages are you getting?

fulcrum

My dad basically messages me every morning and says, has it happened yet?

casey newton

Oh, god.

kevin roose

Meaning, have you been fired?

fulcrum

Yeah, because he’s reading the news about the work hours and stuff. And he’s been wildly speculating about what kind of labor law lawsuits are going to come out.

kevin roose

Oh.

fulcrum

About the hours and so on. But more with regards to me, he’s like, has it happened yet? And that’s really it.

You know, no one knows anything. And I know as much as my family because we’re all reading the same updates.

casey newton

Yeah.

kevin roose

OK.

casey newton

All right. Fulcrum, thank you for coming on “Hard Fork.”

fulcrum

No problem.

casey newton

Keep us posted.

fulcrum

Yeah.

kevin roose

Yeah. Good luck out there.

fulcrum

Thanks so much.

[QUIRKY MUSIC]

kevin roose

All right. We’ll be right back.

[QUIRKY MUSIC]

Before we go, we should say we did reach out to Twitter and ask them to respond to what you just heard from employees about what’s been going on inside the company. They didn’t write back. The company has also said nothing publicly since the deal closed.

So the closest we can get to understanding their point of view is probably from Musk’s Twitter feed, where he’s been tweeting things like, “Twitter’s current lords and peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit,” and, “To all complainers, please continue complaining, but it will cost $8.” He also recently changed his bio to “Twitter complaint hotline operator” and his location to “Hell.”

Casey, thank you for entering the Twitter bunker with me yet again. And thank you for all the hard work and reporting you’ve been doing.

casey newton

It’s been my pleasure, and looking forward to what the next week brings.

kevin roose

And if people want to send you any huge scoops about what’s happening at Twitter, you can send those right over to Casey. His email address is Kevin.Roose —

casey newton

[LAUGHS]:

kevin roose

At nytimes.com.

casey newton

You know, people still can’t tell our voices apart. I hear this every week.

kevin roose

[LAUGHS]: But seriously, if you want to email both of us about something, the show’s email is HardFork@nytimes.com.

casey newton

But if it’s a scoop, you’re going to want to send that as a DM to @CaseyNewton on Twitter.

kevin roose

Do not do that.

casey newton

[LAUGHS]:

kevin roose

Send it to — send it directly to me, Kevin.Roose@nytimes.com. I’ve heard that this Casey Newton fellow is an impersonator.

casey newton

Oh, no!

kevin roose

A scammer.

casey newton

Hey, I pay my eight bucks a month, Roose.

kevin roose

And he’s probably going to steal your cryptocurrency.

casey newton

How dare you? All right. Let’s do the credits.

[CHILL MUSIC]

kevin roose

“Hard Fork” is produced by Davis Land. We’re edited by Paula Szuchman. This episode was fact checked by Caitlin Love. The show was engineered today by Cory Schreppel.

Original music by Dan Powell, Elisheba Ittoop, and Marion Lozano. With special thanks to Hanna Ingber, Nell Gallogly, Kate LoPresti, Shannon Busta, Mahima Chablani, and Jeffrey Miranda.

That’s all this week. See you next time.

casey newton

Wow. You’re sticking with the AI-generated prompt to end the episode.

kevin roose

You know what? Could an AI do this?

casey newton

[LAUGHS]: Kevin just flipped me off.

kevin roose

[LAUGHS]: Thank you for the visual.

[CHILL MUSIC]

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