Twitter owner Elon Musk has apologised to a sacked worker after their exchange on the social media platform went viral.
Icelandic entrepreneur Halli Thorleifsson had sent a direct public tweet to the billionaire after he was locked out of his work’s computer system, telling Musk he could not get HR to respond to him.
Musk had responded with a tweet which appeared to question Mr Thorleifsson’s claim, before saying: “The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm. Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”
In a subsequent tweet, he added: “But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place!”
In yet another tweet, Musk wrote: “He has a prominent, active Twitter account and is wealthy. The reason he confronted me in public was to get a big payout. From what I’ve been told, he’s done almost no work for the past four months, middle-management or otherwise.
“Despite his claims on Twitter that he did work, it turns out he told HR that he couldn’t work because he couldn’t type, but was, over the same period, typing up a storm on Twitter.
“Yet there are many people on Twitter defending him. This hurts my faith in humanity.”
Thorleifsson, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, explained in a Twitter thread that prior to Musk’s takeover and the mass layoffs he had been a senior director and his job at that time did not require much typing – which he said he had difficulty with over long periods.
“I’m not able to do manual work (which in this case means typing or using a mouse) for extended periods of time without my hands starting to cramp,” he said.
“I can however write for an hour or two at a time. This wasn’t a problem in Twitter 1.0 since I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance.
“But as I told HR (I’m assuming that’s the confidential health information you (Musk) are sharing) I can’t work as a hands on designer for the reasons outlined above.”
He added: “I’m typing this on my phone btw (by the way). It’s easier because I only need to use one finger.”
After the conversation went viral on the platform, with Musk’s conduct receiving widespread condemnation, Musk said he decided to contact Thorleifsson directly via videocall “to figure out what’s real vs what I was told” and it was “a long story”.
“Better to talk to people than communicate via tweet,” Musk added.
In a follow-up tweet, the billionaire apologised to Thorleifsson.
“I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation,” Musk said. “It was based on things I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true, but not meaningful. He is considering remaining at Twitter.”
Earlier in the week Thorleifsson – who was voted Iceland’s person of the year in 2022 by four media outlets – told the BBC he could not get an answer from Twitter’s human resources department on whether or not he had been sacked.
“My theory is they made a mistake and are now looking for anything they can find to make this a ‘for cause’ firing to avoid having to fulfil their contractual obligations,” he said.
Thorleifsson sold his creative agency Ueno to Twitter in 2021 for an unknown sum.
Additional reporting by PA Media.