Twitter Down

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 16, 2022 (updated Dec. 28)

Twitter is reporting global outages, with many unable to access the site or its features.

According to downdetector.com, which tracks site traffic, the website became unavailable shortly before midnight GMT (11am Thursday AEDT, 7pm Wednesday EST), with outages most commonly reported on website rather than the app. Within an hour, the website had recorded more than 10,000 user reports of problems accessing Twitter, per the Guardian.

This is just the latest in a string of snafus and setbacks for the website. Barely two weeks ago, Twitter owner Elon Musk temporarily ended Twitter Spaces after a dustup on a call.

Spaces

Twitter Spaces, the audio feature that allows people to participate in group chats using the social media platform, was disabled. The move happened after a contentious discussion about Musk’s suspension of journalists.

Musk suspended Twitter accounts of several journalists this week. The suspended accounts included those belonging to Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN and Drew Harwell of The Washington Post. According to the Times, Musk also suspended Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old college student behind @elonjet, which tracked the movements of Mr. Musk’s private plane. Each of the suspended journalists had written about the plane-tracking account or tweeted about it.

Musk suspended the account just a month after claiming he wouldn’t:

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Elon Enters The Chat

Musk joined a group chat hosted by BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos on Thursday night (Dec. 15). (Sweeney and journalist Matt Binder were able to join Twitter Spaces for the chat, even though they’re banned from Twitter. Hmmm.) During the chat, Musk claimed the journalists he banned shared his address, something that simply isn’t true.

Musk claimed the journalists were “doxxing” him — which refers to sharing someone’s phone number, home address or other personal information. But that’s not happening. The @Elonjet account is using publicly available data. But Musk still insists he’s being doxxed.

“As I’m sure everyone who’s been doxxed would agree, drawing real-time information about somebody’s location is inappropriate and I think everyone on this call would not like that to be done to them. And there’s not going to be any distinction in the future between journalists, so-called journalists, and regular people. Everyone’s going to be treated the same,” Musk said.

“They’re not special because you’re a journalist. You’re a Twitter… you’re a… you’re a citizen. So, no special treatment. You doxx, you get suspended, end of story,” Musk continued. He went on, claiming that posting “real-time information” counted as “ban evasion”.

Pushback

Notopoulos (gently) pushed back.

“Drew, I don’t think you were posting the real-time information, right?” Notopoulos asked Drew Harwell from the Washington Post.

“You’re suggesting that we’re sharing your address, which is not true. And you’re suggesting…” Harwell said.

“It is true,” Musk interrupted.

“We never… I never posted your address,” Harwell said.

“You posted a link to the address,” Musk claimed, though it’s not clear how a flight tracker might be called an address.

Elon Exits The Chat

Harwell brought up the way in which Twitter was now blocking links to ElonJet on other social media platforms.

“Twitter also, of course, marks even the Instagram and Mastodon accounts of ElonJet as harmful, using… we have to acknowledge, using the same exact link-blocking technique that you have criticized as part of the Hunter Biden-New York Post story in 2020,” Harwell said.

“It’s no more acceptable for me…. for you than it is for me… it’s the same thing,” Musk responded.

There was an awkward silence afterward, per Gizmodo. Later, Musk reiterated his original point: “You doxx, you get suspended, end of story, that’s it,” Musk said, before leaving the chat.

The next day, Twitter Spaces was gone.

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Anderson Cooper addressed the fracas that night on “AC360”. He invited Donie O’ Sullivan (one of the suspended reporters) on. And Sullivan reiterates that he did not share personal info about Musk. So there was no real reason for the suspension.

“He’s just doing whatever he feels like,” said reporter Kara Swisher. “If you think there’s any rhyme or reason to this, please disabuse yourself of that. He’s just doing whatever he feels like.”

Musk eventually reinstated Twitter Spaces. He even took part in one on Dec. 22, discussing the economy and his stock in Tesla.

Boos In San Francisco

Musk got an earful from audiences at an onstage appearance on Dec. 10. For reasons unknown, comedian Dave Chappelle had Musk come onstage during a stand-up show in San Francisco. And Musk was loudly booed when he came onstage:

Chappelle joked that the boos must have been coming from “all of the people you fired”. (There’s probably enough of them to fill a stadium by now.) But this is only the latest wrinkle in a chaotic two-month saga.

Background

Billionaire businessman Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion on Oct. 27. He told human resources executives that they should prepare for widespread layoffs. On Nov. 4, he had fired nearly half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, according to tech news site The Verge.

Areas most affected included communications, research, accessibility, and trust and safety. Impacted employees were locked out of their work accounts before they were notified about their job status. The cuts were merciless. Twitter’s chief executive Parag Agrawal and chief financial officer Ned Segal were fired. Twitter’s general counsel Sean Edgett got fired, too. And Twitter’s infrastructure organization Redbird lost 80% of its workforce, per the New York Times.

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Ad Pause

As the cuts continued, advertisers began to flee. After General Motors and Audi paused advertising on the site, citing “uncertainty”, other brands followed. Volkswagen (Europe’s largest carmaker), pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and cereal company General Mills also paused advertising, according to Fortune. Musk subsequently tweeted that the company was experiencing a “massive loss of revenue”.

The cuts continued into the next week. And they were accompanied by increasing worries about the company’s financial state. Speaking at an all-employee meeting on Nov. 9, Musk said Twitter was losing money and that “bankruptcy isn’t outside of the question,” according to Bloomberg

And the cuts kept coming. On Nov. 10, Axios reported that Musk axed all but one member of the communications team. Sean Garrett, Twitter’s first communications hire, warned that was unwise. “Even in the early days, there was no way to possibly run Twitter with less than five people in comms,” he said.

On Nov. 12, Twitter eliminated around 4,400 of its roughly 5,500 contractor positions. But Musk fired more people later. Some of the employees publicly tangled with Musk online, and some criticized him privately in internal channels. As a result, Musk fired them too, in nasty, public fashion.

Public Spats & Private Slack

On Nov. 14, Musk admitted to firing an engineer who dared to correct him online.

According to The Verge, “Musk tweeted an apology for Twitter being slow in “many countries” and implied that the poor performance is because the app does over 1,000 “poorly batched” remote procedure calls to load the home timeline — basically saying the app has to reach out to other servers a bunch of times and wait for a response for each request.” Eric Frohnhoefer, who spent six years working on Twitter for Android, quote retweeted Musk’s statement saying it was incorrect.

Subsequently, the two got into a messy back and forth on Twitter. Some people wondered why Frohnhoefer didn’t voice his concerns privately on Slack instead of in public. He tweeted that Musk should’ve asked questions about the slowness issues privately. A commenter opined that Musk probably wouldn’t want Frohnhoefer on his team after this. Musk replied, “He’s fired.”

But other engineers backed Frohnhoefer up. Ben Leib, a former engineer at Twitter, tweeted that Musk “has no idea wtf he’s talking about”.

Additionally, Sasha Solomon, a tech lead (leading software engineer) cosigned. She called Musk out for laying off Twitter infrastructure team, writing, “You did not just layoff almost all of infra and then make some sassy remark about how we do batching.”

Musk fired her, too.

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More Cuts

After shading Musk for “fire everyone that could give you advice”, former engineer Nick R. also got his walking papers.

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But The Verge says many employees were fired just for criticizing Musk in the company’s private Slack. And some of them brought receipts.

“My twitter account was protected at the time, so I can only assume this was for not showing 100% loyalty in slack,” wrote Nick Morgan, who had tweeted some criticism on his Twitter account. He posted a copy of his firing notice:

He wasn’t alone.

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Musk calls himself a “free speech absolutist”. The idea is that people should be able to express themselves freely without limitations by the state. But firing employees who disagree with you privately isn’t exactly supportive of free speech.

Musk’s Ultimatum & A Mass Exodus

On Nov. 16, Elon Musk issued an ultimatum: either commit to an “extremely hardcore” version of Twitter or resign. Twitter was shifting to “an engineer-driven operation,” he said in an email obtained by the Washington Post. “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” he wrote. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

“If you are sure that you want to be part of the new Twitter, please click yes on the link below,” Musk wrote, linking to an online form. If employees failed to do so, that would be considered a resignation. Anyone who didn’t say yes by 5:00 pm would be let go. They’d receive three months of severance pay.

Resignations Pour In

Employees headed for the exits after Musk’s ultimatum. The Trust and Safety team, which monitors Twitter for abuse, hate speech and misinformation, responded drastically. By midday, members of the team were considering mass resignation, three of them told the Post.

They weren’t alone. On Thursday, Nov. 17, hundreds of employees resigned. Three people close to Twitter told the New York Times that 1200 full-time employees resigned. Multiple critical teams inside Twitter have now completely or near-totally vacated, employees told The Verge. That includes Twitter’s traffic and front-end teams that route engineering requests.

The team that monitors Twitter’s core system libraries that every engineer at the company uses shrank to four people from over 100. “You cannot run Twitter without this team,” one departing employee said. And several members of Twitter’s “Command Center” — a group of engineers that is on call 24/7 and acts as a clearinghouse for internal problems — also tweeted about their departures. (Multiple people around the world resigned from the 20-person team, per the Times.)

It gets worse. A reporter from Insider has revealed that Twitter’s payroll team, financial reporting team and taxes team for the US, have completely resigned.

Crisis

As employees fled, Musk reportedly grew paranoid about company sabotage. He met with a small group of senior engineers that day to find out why so may planned to leave. Shortly after 5 pm, Twitter announced via email that its company offices were closed, and badge access to offices was suspended immediately.

#RIPTwitter started trending that night. Now Twitter is down.

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