The former chief executive of Twitter has accused Elon Musk of making one of the website’s senior executives a “target of harassment and threats”.
Dick Costolo used Twitter to respond to a meme posted by Mr Musk featuring Vijaya Gadde.
The Tesla boss appeared to be using Ms Gadde – Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust – to suggest the company had a “left-wing bias”.
Mr Costola – a CEO of the tech giant between 2010 and 2015 – replied to Mr Musk: “What’s going on? You’re making an executive at the company you just bought the target of harassment and threats.”
In a subsequent tweet, the former Twitter boss wrote: “Bullying is not leadership.”
Mr Musk hit back: “What are talking about? I’m just saying Twitter needs to be politically neutral.”
He appeared to elaborate more on this point by tweeting: “For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally”.
The current CEO of the company also posted to the platform, appearing to show solidarity with the website’s employees who have been the subject of criticism by Mr Musk in recent days.
Parag Agrawal said he was proud of “our people” who managed to stay focused despite the “noise”.
“I took this job to change Twitter for the better, course correct where we need to, and strengthen the service,” the software engineer said. “Proud of our people who continue to do the work with focus and urgency despite the noise.”
Mr Musk’s personal use of the platform is attracting increased criticism as he continues to use it to publicly question policy decisions made by Ms Gadde which has seen her account flooded with abuse.
Shortly afterwards, several commentators noted that her account had been flooded with hateful and abusive comments.
It came just hours after the chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill urged Mr Musk to “clean up” the site.
Ms Gadde, who has worked at Twitter since 2011, is the key executive charged with overseeing Twitter’s trust and safety, legal and public policy functions. Her decision to remove all political advertising and to boot former US President Donald Trump from Twitter in the wake of the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill made her the target of a large contingent of right-wing critics.
The public spat between Twitter’s former CEO and Mr Musk comes after a senior figure at the company said it is “weird to process” his multibillion-pound takeover of the social media platform.
News of the £34.5 billion takeover this week prompted some to question the future safety of the platform and saw some users threaten to leave.
While Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has hailed the decision to let Mr Musk take the social media platform into private ownership and away from the ad model and Wall Street, others have raised concerns about online safety going forward given the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive’s belief in absolute free speech.
Twitter’s senior director of global public policy, Nick Pickles, said he was “still processing” what had happened.
In a comment which sparked laughter during an in-conversation event at Jesus College, Cambridge on Wednesday, he told how he had been off work on holiday at the beginning of the week when the news broke.
He said: “It was weird because I got on the Tube on Tuesday and every front page was a picture of the bird (the Twitter symbol), a picture of, you know, kind of Elon and it’s, I don’t know, it’s weird to process.”
He said the conversation and reaction prompted by the move reminded him that “it’s an incredible privilege to work at a service that has that bigger impact on the world”.
He added: “I’m also obviously like still processing, kind of, what’s happened.
“So I’m just grateful to work at a company that’s this relevant I guess.”
Asked whether it is a good idea for Twitter to be owned by one person, Mr Pickles said “the service is what matters”.
He said: “There are absolute upsides to not being a publicly traded company, particularly for a service like us that is under political pressure all over the world, that is under pressure to intervene in how people are kind of connecting.”
He added: “For me, it’s like, the service is what matters, and I think, as is naturally the case, there’s lots of hypotheticals this week, there’s lots of kind of people kind of pontificating and speculating on what might happen. Focus on the service, that’s what’s really important.”
When it comes to controversial figures such as Mr Trump and Katie Hopkins being allowed to return to Twitter after being banned, Mr Pickles said the issue for people getting accounts back has not been “figured out” yet.
He said: “What is the journey back for any account? It’s something that I think industry writ large has not figured out.”
He said the issue was the “digital equivalent” of people being in jail for things that are now legal.
He added: “I think it’s not really about any one account. It’s about how do you solve that broader issue of permanently removing people’s access to services is generally-speaking a bad outcome. So I think the question is like, what does the solution to that look like? And I think we’re a long way away from figuring it out.”