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Twitter’s Turbulent Year, As Seen Through One Fired Employee’s Cartoons
Manu Cornet drew his way through a tumultuous year at Twitter. His cartoons depict the experience as no other medium can.
Just like that, Manu Cornet’s time at Twitter was over. The prolific cartoonist and software engineer watched his services disconnect and laptop go blank in a meeting on November 1. Less than a half hour later, he learned he was out, an early cut among the 3,700+ Twitter employees who lost their jobs this month.
Cornet’s time at Twitter was brief but well illustrated. With dozens of cartoons, Cornet depicted the feeling inside as Musk acquired the company. As the person behind some of the tech world’s best-known cartoons — including an all-timer on big tech org charts — Cornet was perfectly placed to document the wild 2022 Twitter experience.
Now suing Twitter, Cornet isn’t speaking publicly, but he did give Big Technology permission to reprint his Twitter cartoons (which he calls “twittoons”) with attribution. So this week, let’s highlight eleven illustrations that illuminate Twitter’s recent past as no other medium can.
July 6, 2021: Welcome to Twitter
Cornet began his Twitter career poking fun at the company’s inefficiency. He saw some of its processes — in this case, disorganized password management — and was not impressed. Twitter is a slow-moving, red-tape-filled company that’s struggled to ship products over the years. Cornet is learning why.
August 30, 2021: Twitter’s Central Tension
Musk hasn’t yet entered the picture but Cornet identifies Twitter’s impossible balancing act early on. The service is filled with bots and abuse, but the market wants the associated engagement. So it’s stuck in the middle.
November 30, 2021: Dorsey’s Out
Jack Dorsey resigned from Twitter on November 29, 2021. The next day, Cornet pokes at his dual loyalty to Twitter and Square. The “UH-OH” is telling. There’s a sense of, what comes next? Cornet and his colleagues will soon find out.
February 16, 2022: A Loss of Direction
After Parag Agrawal takes over as CEO, Cornet points to a lack of vision. His cartoon from this era indicates Twitter's priorities are vague yet still accompanied by an urgency to demonstrate progress. Big changes are on the horizon though.
April 7, 2022: Elon Enters the Picture
On April 4, 2022, Musk announces he’s become Twitter’s largest shareholder after acquiring 9% of the company. On April 5, he’s offered a board seat. On April 7, Cornet previews the impending culture clash between Musk and the company’s employees.
April 14, 2022: Tune Out The Noise
Musk makes an offer to buy Twitter in April 2022. Meanwhile, management urges Twitter employees to tune out the noise and focus on the work. This cartoon, which Cornet draws a few days later, perfectly depicts the absurdity of that request.
July 11, 2022: Musk Attempts to Bail
After signing a deal to buy Twitter, Musk declares he no longer wants to go through with it. Cornet imagines him being forced to complete the transaction in this cartoon. He’ll later hand Musk a signed copy with a note, "I hope you don't mind a 'court jester’ at Twitter or you'll have to get me fired.” Musk will later take him up on that offer.
August 25, 2022: A Roller Coaster
As the court case plays out, life inside Twitter gets dizzying. Like the rest of us, employees have little idea when this will end.
October 6, 2022: Deal Complete
Musk agrees to go through with the deal in October and hurtles toward Twitter at rapid speed. Employees have a good idea about what’s coming.
October 26, 2022: Parag MIA
Twitter employees have heard frustratingly little from their CEO. There’s a sense he’s hunkering down and waiting to collect his massive severance package.
November 11, 2022: Down The Drain
Musk acquires Twitter in late October and walks into Twitter HQ with a sink. Soon after, he’ll send Cornet and 3,700+ of his colleagues down the figurative drain. As Cornet imagines it, it’s not all bad.
Epilogue: Musk is now in control of Twitter and rapidly shipping products, features, and policies. This is nothing like the bureaucratic company Cornet walked into last year. Musk may still do a good job with the company (as I highlighted last week). But Cornet’s comics are worth highlighting either way. They show the human side of this story, which can get lost easily.
Note to readers: Last week I praised Musk’s plan to open up verification to all. He did so this week, without confirming account identities, and it’s been a disaster. Spoof accounts now run amok on the site, making it difficult to tell fact from fiction, a major liability for a news app. I was wrong. I hope Musk figures out a better solution or scraps this program altogether.
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What Else I’m Reading
The Matt Levine archive on FTX. Inflation’s eased a bit. Twitter might put up a paywall. It may also process payments. Apple may track more than it lets on. It also limited Airdrop in China after protestors used it. Meta laid off more than 11,000. Amazon is looking to cut costs. Its ad business is massive though. Slander campaign hits the Gas app. How John Fetterman beat Dr. Oz. Why a red wave didn’t materialize. Did ‘Long Covid’ exist before Covid?
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Number Of The Week
Quote Of The Week
I'm sorry. That's the biggest thing. I fucked up, and should have done better.
FTX founder Samuel Bankman-Fried in a thread explaining how he ran his multibillion-dollar company into the ground.
Quote Of The Week 2
“Without significant subscription revenue, there is a good chance Twitter will not survive the upcoming economic downturn."
Elon Musk in a midnight missive to Twitter employees this week.
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This Week On Big Technology Podcast: Out At Twitter — With Simon Balmain
Simon Balmain was laid off at Twitter last week. A former Twitter senior community manager, Balmain takes us through the last few weeks at the company, describing the atmosphere, employee reactions to the layoffs, and whether the company can still function after losing this many people. Join us for a tough but balanced look at a historic moment at the company.
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