Twitter is unraveling.
As the app is roiled by user problems and policy changes, other apps are threatening its dominance. One of those apps was launched by former employees of Twitter, offering Black users a haven from harassment and hate speech. Another one comes courtesy of a longtime rival: Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) just launched an app remarkably similar to Twitter. In turn, Twitter is threatening to sue.
But it might want to get its house in order first. Ever since it changed leadership eight months ago, Twitter has been on a roller-coaster ride. When Elon Musk bought the platform for $44 billion in October, he immediately started cleaning house. The CEO and CFO were fired; the Chief Consumer officer and Chief of Diversity resigned the next day. By Nov. 4, Musk had fired nearly half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, according to tech news site The Verge. (Some of them were reportedly locked out of their accounts before learning the news). By Nov. 10, Musk had axed all but one member of Twitter’s communications team; two days later, 4,400 of its 5,500 contractors were gone.
On Nov. 16, 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.
Employees chose to leave. By Nov. 17, hundreds of employees were opting out. Three people close to Twitter informed media sources that 1200 full-time employees resigned. Among the resignations were a group of engineers who are on call 24/7 to handle internal problems. The resignations reportedly included Twitter’s entire payroll.
More cuts followed in December and January. And some of those cuts were employees that kept the app running smoothly. In March, users reported problems opening links and downloading images. In June, thousands of users reported being locked out of accounts and seeing messages like “rate limit exceeded.” It turned out that Musk had set limits on posts: unverified users could only read 600 posts a day, while verified ones could access 6,000. (New users only got 300, though these limits were later changed.
As users became tired of Musk running Twitter like Death Row Records, competitors started to emerge. On July 5, Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the initial version of Threads, an app built by the Instagram team for sharing with text. The app bills itself as “a new, separate space for real-time updates and public conversations,” but this ostensibly new app looks very familiar.
“It is almost an exact clone of Twitter,” said tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler. “There’s even a little ‘retweet’ button.” Twitter noticed the similarity, too. Which is why they’re now threatening legal action. Twitter sent Threads a cease-and-desist letter on July 7.
“Over the past year, Meta has hired dozens of Twitter employees,” the letter says. “Twitter knows that these employees previously worked at Twitter; that these employees had and continue to have access to Twitter’s trade secrets and other highly confidential information; that these employees owe ongoing obligations to Twitter; and that many of these employees have improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices.”
“With that knowledge, Meta deliberately assigned these employees to develop, in a matter of months, Meta’s copycat ‘Threads’ app with the specific intent that they use Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property in order to accelerate the development of Meta’s competing app, in violation of both state and federal law,” charges the letter, signed by Twitter lawyer Alex Spiro.
Meanwhile, two Black former employees of Twitter have started their own platform. Spill is a mostly visual app started by Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and DeVaris Brown. According to AfroTech, Spill is built “around creating safety for diverse communities.” Spill is an invite-only platform that (according to Slate) consists of image cards of photos, videos or GIFS with your message laid on top. These messages are called “spills,” derived from the “spilling the tea” lingo coined within Black queer communities. According to the founders, that is intentional. “We are here to build a place that centers Black folks, queer folks, and other marginalized groups,” Terrell expressed. “We’re not tolerating any hate.”