The founder of Mastodon has said Twitter has a “real chance of disappearing” under Elon Musk’s management which has seen the social media platform’s workforce of engineers decimated.
Eugen Rochko, a 29-year-old programmer from Germany who created Mastodon as a decentralised alternative to Twitter in 2017, called the billionaire CEO’s leadership style “erratic”, saying it showed “incompetence”.
“I would say it shows incompetence and a lack of understanding of the industry that he’s entered and the platform that he’s now in charge of,” Mr Rochko told BBC Newsnight.
“I would call (Mr Musk’s leadership style) erratic, and frankly, I’m not a fan of it.”
He went on to say that the sheer size of Twitter was not enough to insure it against failure.
“There are examples from history of social media platforms which were also immensely huge, like MySpace, for example, and they lost their relevance. Perhaps they’re still around, but they’re no longer popular or the place that you go to. And even though Twitter is very large, it’s still not even the largest social media platform out there,” the Mastodon founder said.
“I definitely think that with the issues that it’s having right now, and with new management under Elon Musk, that it has a real chance of actually disappearing, because, well, it takes a lot to run a social media platform like that, that deals with real-time data and, you know, losing most of its engineers is not a good thing.”
The billionaire Tesla owner sacked half of Twitter’s 7,500 global workforce a week after taking over the company, ended remote working and set an ultimatum for remaining staff to agree to longer, more intense working patterns or leave.
Mastodon, which has seen a dramatic uptick in new users since Mr Musk took over Twitter three weeks ago, has no central owner or company in charge of the whole network.
“You can think of it as a framework that allows anyone to start their own social network in a cooperative and interoperable way, creating a cohesive, almost seamless social network experience like you could expect from Twitter,” Mr Rochko explained. “But without there being a single point of failure.”
In an interview with the US tech magazine Wired earlier this week, Mr Rochko said some 800,000 new Mastodon accounts have been created, overwhelming popular servers and flooding existing users’ timelines with introductions, questions, and complaints.
“I definitely think that with the issues that it’s having right now, and with new management under Elon Musk, that it has a real chance of actually disappearing”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 18, 2022
With so much of Twitter’s workforce now gone, there is much speculation that the site will crash during the FIFA World Cup – one of the site’s busiest traffic events.
Social media expert Matt Navarra told the PA news agency that the chances of Twitter being knocked offline have “dramatically increased” in the past 24 hours because of the latest exodus.
He said he believes any imminent blackout is unlikely because certain locks prevent changes to the platform’s base code while Mr Musk reorganises the firm.
“There’s a code freeze in place and Twitter is kind of running on autopilot at the moment with its IT systems, and that’s a strategic move by Elon Musk to protect the stability of the platform while he figures out the next move,” Mr Navarra said.
It comes as the Twitter’s former trust and safety chief said app stores represent the “most significant check on unrestrained free speech on the mainstream internet”.
Yoel Roth wrote in the New York Times: “Failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic, risking Twitter’s expulsion from their app stores and making it more difficult for billions of potential users to get Twitter’s services. This gives Apple and Google enormous power to shape the decisions Twitter makes.”
Meanwhile, a trade union representing Twitter workers in the UK has written to the social media giant expressing its concerns over Mr Musk’s restructuring of the company.
On Friday it emerged that Twitter had closed its offices to workers until Monday amid the turmoil while many users are sharing links to alternative platforms they plan to use should the site be knocked offline by the ongoing uncertainty.
Trade union Prospect, which says it represents a third of Twitter’s UK workforce, has now written to the company raising its concerns about the treatment of the firm’s staff, how its redundancy consultation process will work and has asked for a meeting with Twitter to discuss them.
Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “We are deeply concerned by further reports of the treatment of Twitter employees.
“From removal of remote working, demanding commitment to long hours and unsustainable working practices, and now locking employees out of their offices, we will not let these makings of a digital (cruise company) P and O pass unchecked.
“We are urgently seeking a meeting with Twitter UK Ltd to discuss how it will manage its collective redundancy consultation, ensure a fair and transparent process, and meet its duty of care and legal obligations to employees, including those with particular needs.
“Prospect will continue to do everything we can to support our members at Twitter.
“Big tech barons are not above the law and we will hold Twitter to legal account where possible.”