Elon Musk has millions of dedicated critics and fans, and nowhere is clearer than on Twitter. Since Musk, who is the world’s richest person and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Company and Neuralink, announced plans to buy the social media company in April, the debate has intensified over whether he is a genius who is saving the world or simply. a rude billionaire with a big platform. And more and more people, including their own employees, have begun to question the increasingly blurred line between their person on Twitter and their role as leaders of several major companies.
Last Thursday, SpaceX fired at least five employees involved in writing a letter to company executives condemning Musk’s recent behavior, especially on Twitter, where he has been interacting more frequently with right-wing politicians and experts. In recent months, Musk’s Twitter activity has included the posting of a meme to Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde. lightly making an allegation who had sexually harassed a SpaceX flight attendant and mocking the appearance of Bill Gates. The letter focused on Musk’s behavior on Twitter, where he has spoken out more and more about US policy and criticism of Democratic Party, which says it has deviated too far to the left.
“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, especially in recent weeks,” the letter says. “As our most prominent CEO and spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX: every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company.”
The layoffs followed a report from Virgen on Thursday on the letter, which represents the first time such a document has been published by employees in Musk, and marks one of the most public concerted actions to date against Musk by employees of one of his companies. Musk already has a huge influence, but now that he’s on his way to owning Twitter, one of the largest social media platforms in the U.S., his voice will have an even greater reach. It also means that his ability to influence what people say about him will also be greater. SpaceX’s letter, and the subsequent dismissal of the employees involved with it, shows that there is a growing tension between how Musk presents himself as an individual, even a very public individual, and how his employees feel represented or misrepresented by its general manager.
One of the actions proposed by the employees in the letter is to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful behavior on Twitter” and “quickly and explicitly separate from Elon’s personal brand.”
But SpaceX’s letter doesn’t just refer to Musk’s abrasive “personal brand” on Twitter. The authors of the letters claim that this behavior was “emblematic” of a larger cultural problem in SpaceX. “SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values,” the letter said. He called on leaders to better promote a work culture that values diversity, equity and inclusion.
The companies run by Musk have faced several allegations of promoting an unhealthy or even abusive work environment. On Thursday, Tesla investor Solomon Chau filed a lawsuit against Tesla in Texas, where the company is headquartered, for failing to properly address workplace abuse claims. “Tesla has created a toxic work culture based on racist and sexist abuse and discrimination against its own employees,” Chau said in the lawsuit.
This follows a February case in which the state of California sued Tesla’s Fremont factory on charges of racism. The lawsuit represented more than 4,000 past and present black employees who claimed that black workers had been segregated into separate parts of the factory. According to interviews with the Los Angeles Times, there was a particularly labor-intensive section of the plant that Tesla workers called “the plantation.” A black worker said he heard racial insults 50 to 100 times a day.
Musk’s companies have also faced allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. In 2021, five former SpaceX employees told The Verge that they had suffered or witnessed sexual harassment at the company. A former SpaceX engineer, Ashley Kosak, published an essay detailing her experience during her time at the company, where she had started as a fellow in 2017. “I reported every sexual harassment incident I suffered in HR and nothing was done. ” she wrote. “Each and every one of the men who harassed me were tolerated despite the company’s so-called intolerance and ruthless policy.”
SpaceX’s “no idiot” policy is well known. President Gwynne Shotwell has boasted that the company’s zero tolerance for idiots avoids disruptions, which in turn drives innovation. The open letter written by employees last week stated that the company was not actually complying with this policy.
Musk himself has also been accused of mistreating employees. In May, Business Insider reported a complaint that Musk had sexually harassed a SpaceX flight attendant, exposing her and offering to buy her a horse in exchange for an “erotic massage.” After the report is released, Musk joked about it on Twitter.
Five SpaceX employees have now lost their jobs after criticizing their CEO’s leadership. SpaceX has yet to answer a question about whether Musk was directly involved in the layoff of employees, but Musk has a reported track record of critical layoffs; in the book Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the bet of the century, author Tim Higgins reports several cases in which Musk fired his employees in times of anger, including people who disagreed with him. Bloomberg journalist and Musk biographer Ashlee Vance quotes a SpaceX engineer in her book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the search for a fantastic future who said that “dealing with staff was not good for long periods of this time.” The employee recalled that some engineers “blamed them for things they hadn’t done” and fired. “The kiss of death was proving that Elon was wrong about something,” the engineer told Vance.
The letter from SpaceX employees and its aftermath further reveals the dissonance between Elon Musk, the brilliant innovator, and Elon Musk, the manager. For a long time, Musk has been calling for respect as the founder of brilliant technology that many believe is advancing humanity. If his leadership is a bit cheeky, even abusive, many seemed to think he could be forgiven because of the great importance of the Tesla and SpaceX missions. Musk has made comparisons between his work and philanthropy, saying that sending humans to Mars is important for “spread the light of consciousness.”
This larger-than-life vision of Musk and his businesses has often attracted people to work for him. But as some of your SpaceX employees made clear, their recent behavior and the scandals that have followed are detrimental to this mission. As Musk becomes more and more divisive on Twitter, a communications platform he intends to own, how can his employees continue to separate the two people (social media celebrity and CEO) and do their job without distractions of public relations? That’s the question some of Musk’s employees seem to be facing now.
Musk’s employees on Twitter seem to already be wary of his future boss. In a virtual meeting with Twitter employees last Thursday, Musk did not deny the possibility of layoffs after the acquisition. A video of Slack’s internal messages from employees reacting critically to Musk during the meeting on Twitter was also leaked, with no names written. Musc responded to Twitter on the leak with a word: “Interesting”.