HomeTechnologyElon Musk addresses Twitter employees for the first time.

Elon Musk addresses Twitter employees for the first time.

SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk has publicly trashed Twitter. On Thursday, he acted like he finally owned the company.

In an hour-long morning question-and-answer session with Twitter’s roughly 8,000 employees — the first time Musk has spoken to them since striking a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company in April —, the richest man in the world opened up about his plans for the service. In a gushing and at times incoherent speech, he touched on growth, possible layoffs, issues like anonymity, Chinese apps, and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.

“I want Twitter to contribute to a better and longer-lasting civilization in which we better understand the nature of reality,” Musk said at the virtual meeting, which was broadcast live to Twitter employees and heard by The New York Times. He added that he hoped the service could help humanity “better understand the nature of the universe, as much as it is possible to understand.”

The meeting, which Musk participated in on his cell phone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested he was determined to seal the blockbuster deal. In recent weeks, his intentions towards Twitter have been in doubt. The billionaire, who also runs electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has repeatedly challenged fake Twitter accounts. This month, his lawyers said the company was refusing to give him any information, an apparent pretext for trying to end or renegotiate the acquisition.

Musk, who offered $54.20 a share to buy Twitter, may have changed his mind after global markets plunged. Shares of Twitter are now trading around $38. And shares of Tesla, which are Musk’s main source of wealth, have also plunged.

In April, Musk agreed to buy Twitter without doing due diligence. He is on the hook for a $1 billion breakup fee if he leaves. Under the terms of the agreement, Twitter also has the right to sue you to force completion of the acquisition, if your financial debt for the purchase remains intact.

Twitter has insisted that the deal is still on track and that it has been sharing information with Musk.

In his comments on Thursday, Musk did not directly address whether he would close the deal with Twitter. But he said that he had big plans for the service.

In the conversation, which was moderated by Twitter chief marketing officer Leslie Berland, Musk said he hoped to grow the service to be used by more than a billion people around the world. That would be nearly four times the number of people using Twitter today. He added that he was involved in Tesla and expected to be on Twitter, and would be especially involved in the features of the social networking service.

“I hope you’ll listen to me on this,” Musk said.

Mr. Musk answered questions collected from Twitter employees in Slack’s internal messaging system last week.

Some of the questions were about workplace culture, including remote work. This month, Musk sent memos to workers at Tesla and SpaceX, saying he expected them to be in the office 40 hours a week. Twitter employees have largely worked remotely in the coronavirus pandemic.

At the meeting, Musk said he was open to Twitter employees working remotely, as developing software was different from showing up every day to build cars. But he noted that a widespread lack of participation in the office could contribute to a decline in “esprit de corps” and said he hoped people would be willing to enter the office more in the future.

Musk avoided directly answering whether there would be Twitter layoffs under his watch, though his response was ominous.

“Right now, the costs outweigh the revenue,” he said. “That’s not a great situation.”

Musk, a longtime Twitter power user with more than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the company’s potential is underutilized. He has added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service out of the eye of public markets by taking the company private and making significant changes to the way Twitter operates.

Inside Twitter, some employees have had mixed feelings about Musk. Some have said they are concerned about his Twitter habits and shady politics, and are concerned about how he has said he would prefer to take a laissez-faire approach to policing the platform. That has fueled questions, given the years Twitter spent building its policy department.

Others point to Musk’s reputation as an innovator. After previous Twitter executives set but fell short of high financial and user performance goals, some employees have said Musk could reinvigorate the company.

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