Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo appeared to direct a terse message on Wednesday to the company’s new overlord, Elon Musk: “Bullying is not leadership.”
Musk spent part of his day publicly attacking one of his new employees on the platform he said he would purchase two days earlier, which sparked condemnation from an array of Twitter users and prompted his hordes of diehard fans to lob verbal abuse her way.
“What’s going on? You’re making an executive at the company you just bought the target of harassment and threats,” wrote Costolo, who ran Twitter from 2010 to 2015, in a direct response to one of Musk’s tweets.
Musk, the world’s richest man, had been picking a fight with Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, who has been at the company for more than a decade and served as force for change in recent years on a platform long plagued by verbal abuse and misinformation. She played a central part in Twitter’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump, CNN reported last year.
On Tuesday, a right-wing political commentator, Saagar Enjeti, labeled Gadde Twitter’s “top censorship advocate” for restricting the spread of a story about first family member Hunter Biden’s laptop. Musk responded to Enjeti directly, calling the decision “incredibly inappropriate.”
Gadde was reported to have shown emotion during a virtual meeting with her team on Monday, when she expressed concern over the direction the company was headed under Musk’s leadership.
Wednesday afternoon, Musk posted an image criticizing Gadde using images from an episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast in which Gadde appeared and spent time defending the content moderation policies she helped shape. His tweet alleged that Gadde has pursued policies that betray her “left wing bias.”
In the Joe Rogan episode, released in 2019, Gadde defended the site’s policy against misgendering transgender people, citing research on suicide rates in the community.
Musk is widely expected to loosen the rules about what people can post to Twitter, which would likely increase the amount of hate speech on the site. Like Gadde, many Twitter staffers are reportedly concerned about how Musk will run the platform.
He addressed the controversy indirectly in another tweet late Wednesday afternoon: “For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally.” But he did not elaborate on the kinds of “upsetting” decisions he would make.
New York Times podcaster Kara Swisher, a longtime tech journalist, provided a bleak answer to Costolo’s question about Musk’s motivation for publicly disparaging an employee.
“What’s going on: He’s trying to goad people into leaving and it’s an odious way of doing it,” Swisher said. “He’d rather they quit, than pay them out.”
Gadde has not spoken publicly on Musk’s attacks. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.