Business Current Events Editorial Process

Elon Musk trolled a Twitter employee who just wanted to know if he’d been laid off

Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson. Tap to view at full size.

Pictured above is Haraldur Thorleifsson, better known as Halli. He founded Ueno, an agency that designed digital brands and experiences for a fine list of clients that included Airbnb, Apple, ESPN, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, NY Times, Oculus, PayPal, Uber, Venmo, Visa, and Walmart. As a result of their success, Ueno was acquired by Twitter in 2021. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Twitter was then acquired by Elon Musk in 2022.

Halli had a problem: he had no idea if he’s still a Twitter employee or not.

Here’s his situation, explained in a tweet made at 3:38 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5) on Monday, March 6th:

Tap to view the original tweet.

About four hours later, Musk replied.

Tap to view the original tweets.

Halli made a very good point there. Musk replied with this:

Tap to view the original tweet.

That definitely doesn’t look legally binding, but what other path of communication did Halli have? He replied, carefully treading the line between providing enough information to explain the work he did and not breaking any non-disclosure agreements. What he did required a fair bit of effort; everything Musk did so far required little or none:

Tap to view the original tweets.

Here are Musk’s responses: an adolescent “pics or it didn’t happen” and the “What would you say you do here?” clip featuring “The Bobs” from Office Space (which, ironically enough, was about working for a terrible boss at a soul-crushing workplace):

Tap to view the original tweet.
Tap to view the original tweet.

At this point, Musk wasn’t trying to converse — he was simply trolling. Employees from Twitter acquisitions were laid off the previous week (as evidenced by this tweet by Leah Culver), but Halli hadn’t yet been informed.

Here’s what happened in the end, as explained in a couple of tweets from Halli that appeared a few minutes ago at the time of writing:

Tap to view the original tweets.

Halli was definitely the better person in the conversation, but when Elon Musk is the other person, the bar’s pretty low.

Some notes

What Musk demonstrated in this exchange wasn’t leadership, nor was it management — in fact it wasn’t even decent. It was simply Musk being what he is at his rotten core: an asshole. I’m using philosophy professor Aaron James’ definition from his book, Assholes: A Theory: someone who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”

More irksome than Musk’s behavior is the number of responses by others cheering him on, questioning Halli’s value, or calling for Halli’s firing. I looked at a number of these fanboys’ profiles — and yes, they were largely male — and while many of them liked to portray themselves as independent thinkers and savvy businesspeople, most also appeared to collect a paycheck every two weeks, live vicariously through Musk’s public persona, and their Twitter feeds looked like laundry lists of grievances against “others.”

The cruelty from Musk’s supporters towards Halli reminds me of a couple of lines from a critique of the classic sci-fi short story, The Cold Equations:

…I think these readers are tripping on the story’s considerable jolt of machismo. It’s a commonplace that our civilization is soft and sentimental. It’s less remarked that soft and sentimental people — particularly the chair-bound geek variant — often idolize brutality. The actual inhabitants of barbarian eras don’t necessarily share this feeling; they often took pains to appear as refined and cultured people.

There were a few posters for whom this was the incident that caused them to question their admiration for Musk. It might be that this is the first time they could picture themselves in the position of the person having to face off against Musk, instead of seeing Musk as the movie protagonist you’re supposed to identify with.

Stop worshipping Elon Musk. He’s not Tony Stark; he’s Justin Hammer.

If you’re still using Twitter, give Halli a follow and drop him an encouraging line.

Also: Did you know that Halli is Iceland’s Person of the Year?

From the article in Iceland Review:

Haraldur Þorleifsson, known as Halli, has garnered multiple Person of the Year Awards from various Icelanidc media outlets, including from national broadcaster RÚV, Morgunblaðið, and Vísir.

Halli, a 45 year-old designer, gained nation-wide recognition this year when, after the sale of his tech company Ueno to Twitter, he chose to be paid the sale price as wages. Normally in such large sales, the payment comes in the form of stock or other financial instruments, which categorize the sale as capital gains, meaning it is taxed at a much lower rate. Halli, however, gladly paid the higher tax rate, having spoken publicly on many occasions about the benefits he has received from the Icelandic social system.

Halli was born with muscular dystrophy and came from a working class background. In statements about his decision to pay back into the Icelandic social system, he cited both healthcare and education in Iceland as keys to his success. Notably, he was one of the highest tax payers in the nation after the sale of Ueno.

2 replies on “Elon Musk trolled a Twitter employee who just wanted to know if he’d been laid off”

Heh, you’ll see that he ended up backtracking after apparently discovering that he now owed Halli a cool hundred million and a quick phone call from an undoubtedly flop-sweat-soaked lawyer about just how open Musk had made himself to a massive massive lawsuit.

Comments are closed.