Monday was an emotional day at Twitter — even for its executives.
Shortly after billionaire Elon Musk bought the powerful social media platform, top Twitter lawyer Vijaya Gadde called a virtual meeting with the policy and legal teams she oversees to discuss what the new ownership could mean for them.
Gadde cried during the meeting as she expressed concerns about how the company could change, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She acknowledged that there are significant uncertainties about what the company will look like under Musk’s leadership.
She spoke at length about how she is proud of the work her team has done and offered employees encouragement, urging them to keep striving to do good work at the company.
Gadde, who has worked at Twitter since 2011, is the key executive charged with overseeing Twitter’s trust and safety, legal and public policy functions. She is seen internally as Twitter’s “moral authority” and the executive tasked with handling sensitive issues like harassment and dangerous speech.
Gadde played a leading role in negotiating the deal between Twitter and Musk, according to one person familiar with the dynamics.
She has shepherded Twitter through some of its most contentious political battles, including the decisions to remove all political advertising and to boot former President Donald Trump from the platform in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill — a position that has earned her devoted fans within Twitter, as well as a large contingent of right-wing critics.
But as news of Musk’s official takeover broke, policy and legal employees fretted at the meeting about what his leadership could mean for Twitter’s carefully crafted online speech rules, including its policies against hate speech, misinformation and even political advertising.
“I think everyone at Twitter, regardless of how they feel about the news, is feeling reflective and emotional,” said one Twitter employee. “We’ve gone through a lot in the past two years and I think it’s generally instigated a lot of reflection. I think this was more of an acknowledgment of the uncertainty everyone is feeling right now.”
Gadde and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Musk’s acquisition, which places the world’s richest man at the helm of one of its most influential social media networks, is one of the largest-ever activist takeovers of a publicly-traded company.
Musk has called for Twitter to truly embrace free speech and has advocated for open-sourcing Twitter’s algorithm and removing all spam bots from the platform. Most significantly, Musk has signaled he supports vastly loosening the company’s content moderation policies, suggesting it should only remove content if it is required by law. That would be a huge shift for the company, which has spent years creating elaborate guidelines to reduce the amount of vitriolic and threatening content on its platform.
Gadde herself has strongly advocated for ensuring that Twitter’s policies protect its most vulnerable users while protecting free expression — a position that is at odds with Musk’s.
“I’m often inspired by the vigorous debates on controversial issues that occur on Twitter, but I’ve also been seriously troubled by the plight of some of our users who are completely overwhelmed by those who are trying to silence healthy discourse in the name of free expression,” Gadde wrote in a 2015 Washington Post op-ed. “At times, this takes the form of hateful speech in tweets directed at women or minority groups; At others, it takes the form of threats aimed at intimidating those who take a stand on issues.”
Gadde holds one of the most controversial positions at Twitter: Her teams decide how to moderate content. That’s made her a target of right-wing criticism, particularly when Twitter blocked the distribution of a New York Post article about President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in 2020. She faced a renewed wave of criticism after multiple reports confirmed she was behind the decision to ban Trump from Twitter.
“No matter what we do we’ve been accused of bias,” she told Bloomberg News in 2020. “Leaving content up, taking content down — that’s become pretty much background noise.”
It’s unclear so far what Musk’s acquisition will mean for Twitter — and for Gadde’s future with the company. Executives at an all-hands on Monday demurred when employees asked about what Musk’s leadership will mean for Twitter’s policies.
During her team meeting, Gadde fielded similar concerns. And several employees left the debrief with a renewed sense of loyalty to her.
“If you look up the word ‘inspiring’ in the dictionary you find a picture of @vijaya,” tweeted senior public policy associate Kennedy O’Brien.
“Grateful as ever for your leadership @vijaya – couldn’t feel luckier,” tweeted Camino RojoTwitter Spain’s head of public policy, government and philanthropy.
Many progressives have raised deep concerns regarding Musk’s move to buy Twitter.
The billionaire entrepreneur has “used the platform to attack people, often launching childish broadsides against anyone he doesn’t like or agree with,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of the progressive tech advocacy group Free Press. “And he’s regularly rallied a Twitter mob of loyal fans to follow his lead with more vicious threats and bullying.”