It's long been an open secret in Silicon Valley that Twitter is a poorly run mess. Now a whistleblower is blowing the lid off and giving Elon Musk ammo for his legal battle.
- Twitter has long had a reputation for not being well-managed.
- Much of that stems from cofounder Jack Dorsey, who is reportedly known for absenteeism and indecisiveness, critics say.
A new whistleblower complaint lays bare a claim that has long been whispered about: Twitter is poorly managed.
The complaint by ex-Twitter security chief Pieter Zatko accused the company of widespread mismanagement and "egregious deficiences" in security protocols. The complaint also described Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey as "disengaged" and "rudderless."
Zatko's allegations have roiled Twitter and its public perception, while giving Elon Musk new ammunition as he battles Twitter over whether to buy the company — and how much it's worth.
A dual CEO
Critics claim dysfunction at Twitter began with Dorsey. It's been his Achilles heel ever since he was pushed out as CEO in 2008, reportedly over spending too much time taking fashion design lessons and practicing yoga.
In the years since, his reputation as a visionary has been tainted by reports painting him as an absent, uncommunicative, indecisive leader who at times delegated major decisions to others at the company. In Twitter's early days, he was known for disliking criticism and he enjoyed taking credit for things, as The Verge noted, citing the 2013 book "Hatching Twitter."
Seven years after his 2008 exit from the top job at Twitter, Dorsey was recruited back to the role of CEO after his predecessor, Dick Costolo, replaced a large portion of management, took the company public, and failed to turn a profit.
Before returning to Twitter, Dorsey launched Square — now called Block. He remained CEO of Square when he reclaimed the top role at Twitter.
His dual-CEO status, rare in the business world, became a target of criticism. Some questioned how any leader could effectively run two companies at the same time.
In early 2020, hedge fund Elliott Management bought a sizable chunk of Twitter. The firm pushed for changes at the company, including removing Dorsey, adding new board directors, and setting a faster pace of product innovation.
Later that year, after a mass hack that impacted 130 big-name Twitter profiles, Dorsey reportedly recruited Zatko, the security chief who in July filed the 84-page whistleblower complaint.
In its response to Zatko's complaint, Twitter said that CEO Parag Agrawal fired Zatko because of "poor performance and leadership."
Dorsey did not respond to a request for comment, and he has yet to respond publicly to the whistleblower's claims.
In a statement to Insider, a Twitter spokesperson said Zatko's complaint is "riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies" and paints a "false narrative" about the company. "Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be," they added.
In late 2021, Dorsey left Twitter for the second time and appointed Agrawal, a company veteran with little leadership experience, to take over as CEO. He and Dorsey saw eye-to-eye on social media's move toward decentralization. But Wall Street was disappointed with an insider taking the reins instead of an outsider that could have really shaken up the company.
Twitter has long struggled to reach profitability and grow its user base, much to Wall Street's dismay. And Twitter admitted earlier this year that it messed up how it counts monthly active users, a metric so important that the Securities and Exchange Commission has started sniffing around.
Dorsey was 'disengaged' and quiet in meetings, whistleblower claims
Zatko's complaint accuses the CEO of exhibiting "absent behavior" and a "drastic loss of focus" in his last year as Twitter CEO.
Zatko also said Dorsey was a "disengaged" leader who only "sporadically" showed up to meetings — and when he did, he sometimes didn't say a word. Sometimes he'd appear to go missing and wouldn't respond to his teams for "days or weeks," the complaint said.
Top brass worried about his health and tried to cover up for him, but "even mid- and lower-level staff could tell that the ship was rudderless," the complaint said.
The complaint said Agrawal directed Zatko to draft misleading documents for Twitter's board of directors that watered down the company's security flaws. The complaint also alleged that Twitter lied about executives being incentivized to find spam accounts on the platform and that an executive admitted to the board that the company had "intentionally and knowing deprioritized" platform health to grow monetized daily active users.
In short, Zatko, a well-respected figure in Silicon Valley, has gone on the record about Twitter's management struggles, shouting from the mountaintops some of the complaints that have long been leveled at Dorsey and Twitter leadership.
The concrete effect on Twitter of Zatko's complaint remains to be seen, but it could impact the company's legal battle with Elon Musk.
As for Dorsey, much of the pressure is behind him — you can find him nowadays floating on a yacht in Spain.
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