Elon Musk has apologized after publicly scoffing at a Twitter employee’s uncertainty about whether he had been laid off in a recent round of cuts and speaking dismissively of the employee’s disability in a series of tweets Monday night.
“I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on things I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true, but not meaningful,” Musk tweeted Tuesday. “He is considering remaining at Twitter.”
Earlier, Haraldur Thorleifsson, an Iceland-based Twitter senior director, tweeted at Musk that access to his computer had been cut off nine days earlier, when Twitter reportedly laid off some 200 employees. But, Thorleifsson said in his tweet, “your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not.”
She was weeks away from maternity leave at Twitter. Then Elon Musk took over
Musk responded in a tweet asking, “what work have you been doing?” When Thorleifsson provided a list of his tasks in response, Musk appeared to cast doubt on several points. “Pics or it didn’t happen,” he tweeted. In a separate tweet, the billionaire said Thorleifsson “did no actual work, claimed as an excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing.”
Thorleifsson clarified in a tweet that he has muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that he says put him in a wheelchair more than 20 years ago. Thorleifsson, who founded a digital branding company acquired by Twitter in 2021, has been recognized by the United Nations and the president of Iceland for spearheading a charitable effort to build 1,000 wheelchair ramps around Reykjavik to increase the city’s accessibility.
“I’m not able to do manual work (which in this case means typing or using a mouse) for extended periods of time without my hands starting to cramp,” he said. “I can however write for an hour or two at a time. This wasn’t a problem in Twitter 1.0 since I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical advice.”
Thorleifsson did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. Twitter, which has cut much of its public relations department, also did not respond.
It’s not the first time Musk, one of the richest men in the world, has publicly mocked employees at Twitter, the company he bought for $44 billion last year. He has feuded on the platform with former Twitter executives, fired employees who criticized him and in one case publicly called out a former employee’s tweets about him saying that they were the result of “a tragic case of adult onset Tourette’s.”
The jarring spectacle of a company’s owner publicly mocking an employee highlights the unique corporate circus that Twitter workers have experienced over the past year. Musk threatened to bail on the deal, then completed the acquisition only to proceed with multiple rounds of layoffs. Hundreds of former Twitter employees are now taking legal action against the company, alleging broken severance promises and, in some cases, discrimination, including against disabled employees.
Meanwhile, the platform appears to be struggling to stay online. On Monday, Twitter experienced one of its biggest outages since Musk’s takeover, with many users entirely unable to access the site, and others facing issues clicking links or viewing photos, for about an hour. It was the third major technical glitch Twitter has faced in less than a month, as Musk has slashed staff from around 7,500 workers before his takeover to fewer than 2,000 and engaged in a series of other cost-cutting efforts.
Following the exchange with Musk, Thorleifsson said in a tweet that Twitter’s HR head had confirmed he is no longer employed at the company.
“Which is totally ok and it happens all the time … They usually tell people about it but that’s seemingly the optional part at Twitter now,” he said. “Next up though is finding out if Twitter will pay me what they owe me per my contract.”