Elon Musk, who completed his $44 billion takeover of Twitter on Thursday, fired the company’s top officials, including Vijaya Gadde, the company’s long-time head of legal, policy and safety, as one of his first acts, according to reporting by The New York Times and other publications.
Musk “began cleaning house” immediately after arriving at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters late Wednesday, firing Gadde, CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and the company’s general counsel, Sean Edgett, the Times and the Wall Street Journal reported.
“The bird is freed,” Musk tweeted from his account Thursday.
Criticism of the company’s content moderation policy was at the center of Musk’s designs on the company from the start.
"Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated," he said when he announced his deal to acquire the company in April.
He aimed much of his criticism at Gadde, who was brought on board 10 years ago by then-CEO and Chairman Jack Dorsey and given responsibility for deciding what content would be allowed, and what wouldn’t be, and how the policies would be enforced.
“The work to write the policies … largely fell to Ms. Gadde and her team,” the Journal reported. “Dorsey … relied on Ms. Gadde’s judgment to navigate thorny content-moderation questions.”
Musk had been saying for years that any content that isn’t expressly illegal should be allowed, but after wrestling in its early years with misogynistic, racist and other content widely viewed as toxic, the company was trying to balance unfettered speech with decency, according to reports.
“We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service,” Dorsey said in 2018. “We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers.”
Tension over content came to a head in 2020 when Twitter suspended the account of the New York Post after it published an article it said was based on information taken from the laptop of President Biden’s controversial son, Hunter Biden.
Twitter said the content violated its policy against posting personal material that’s obtained through hacking, according to Business Insider.
The company later restored the publication’s account but the action rankled Musk.
The issue resurfaced earlier this year after Musk tweeted an image of Gadde overlaid with text that accused Twitter of having a left-wing political bias, the Journal reported.
Musk’s tweet, given his 110 million followers, went viral, resulting in widespread racist and sexist harassment against Gadde, who had long been viewed on the right as a censorship advocate.
Although he didn’t mention Gadde by name, Twitter CEO Agrawal tweeted he was “proud of our people who continue to do the work with focus and urgency despite the noise.”
The Journal’s reporting suggests Gadde would have had a rocky relationship with Musk had he kept her on board and she agreed to stay. In April, after his plan to acquire the company was announced, Gadde reportedly cried as she talked to Twitter employees about Musk’s acquisition of the company.