David Heinemeier Hansson

October 28, 2022

The delusional demands of some Twitter employees

That crazy son of bitch finally did it. Twitter now belongs to Elon Musk. And I must admit that I'm softening on the prospect. I still think social media by and large operate to the detriment of society, but I don't see Twitter aggravating that under Musk's management. But we shall see! That's the excitement of our time. So many unknowns up in the air.

What's perhaps less of a surprise is the reaction from some of Twitter's employees. Now clearly they've been on a roller coaster since the spring, and such a ride might mess with the composure of even the most stoic among us. But that does not make the demands expressed in this open letter reported by TIME any less delusional. 

It opens with a charming overture to the new owner of their company:

A threat to workers at Twitter is a threat to Twitter’s future. These threats have an impact on us as workers and demonstrate a fundamental disconnect with the realities of operating Twitter. They threaten our livelihoods, access to essential healthcare, and the ability for visa holders to stay in the country they work in. We cannot do our work in an environment of constant harassment and threats. Without our work, there is no Twitter.

We, the workers at Twitter, will not be intimidated. We recommit to supporting the communities, organizations, and businesses who rely on Twitter. We will not stop serving the public conversation.

Threats? Harassment? Intimidation? You'd think they were giving an account of working for the mob. Not the reality of being highly-paid tech workers at an unprofitable social media platform that just got a new owner who bought the place to turn the ship around.

Again, you should read this with the sympathy appropriate for people whose place of employment has been sold-then-not-sold-then-sold-again seemingly ad nauseam this year. But that's not a free pass to throw entitled tantrums or demands.

Yet that's what we got. The open letter continues with these points:

We demand leadership to respect the platform and the workers who maintain it by committing to preserving the current headcount.

We demand Elon Musk explicitly commit to preserve our benefits, those both listed in the merger agreement and not (e.g. remote work).

We demand to be treated with dignity, and to not be treated as mere pawns in a game played by billionaires.

This is not just a delusional list, but also a self-defeating negotiation tactic. The Twitter employees who conceived of this letter have little to no leverage. Musk has demonstrated repeatedly that he's not the type of character to be pushed like this.

But take Musk out of the picture for a second. What new owner, especially one who just massively overpaid for a company that's been losing hundreds of millions of dollars lately, would commit not to layoff a single employee? Or agree to be bound in all perpetuity by the benefits and work arrangements offered by the past management?

The whole point of Musk buying the Twitter was to run it differently! That's what the $44 billion offer yield in return: The power to make new plans for the company. Who knows what Musk actually intends to do. Maybe he'll let go of 75% of employees, maybe it'll be 50%, but I guarantee you that there's no possible universe in which the number is zero.

Anyway. Even going down this line of analysis, thinking of the open letter as an earnest attempt to negotiate working conditions with the new owner, is a bit folly. Much easier to explain the delusional demands as performance theater. Acting out the righteous belief that We, The Twitter Workers, Stand United Before The Great Peril.

Whatever happens to Twitter, I must nod in awe of Musk's ability to direct one of the most fascinating shows on earth right now, and this little scene with the delusional demands fits right in.

What a time to be alive.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.