In the middle of a workday, Sasha Solomon, a 34-year-old software engineer in Portland, Oregon, put her French bulldog, Bosworth, on a leash and walked down a leafy street to a favorite coffee shop.
It seemed like an ordinary November afternoon, or as ordinary as it could be for someone working at Twitter under its mercurial new owner, Elon Musk. Solomon ordered a latte for herself and a drip coffee with cream for her husband. Then she and Bosworth headed back home.
Sitting at her computer on her living room couch, she tried to check the latest messages on Slack, only to find her account was locked. She then pulled up her work email account, or tried to. Also locked. She logged onto her personal email account and saw something in her inbox from a human resources executive at Twitter.
“Your recent behavior has violated company policy,” the email said, according to Solomon. She turned to her husband and said, as she recalled in a recent interview, “I guess I don’t work here anymore.”
With that, Solomon had become part of a small number of media industry employees who lost their jobs this year after using Twitter to take on the institutions where they worked. In Solomon’s case, she directly challenged her boss in a series of tweets. She said she is not sure whether those tweets caused her to lose her job, or if she was just one of the roughly 3,700 Twitter employees who got the ax in layoffs that began soon after Musk took ownership of the company in October.
When Solomon was growing up outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she never imagined she would end up working at a marquee company, much less tangling with a multibillionaire, she said. Even while studying computer science and mathematics at the University of Idaho, she figured she would stay in her home state for good, she said. But then a friend landed a job at a tech company in San Francisco and suggested she look for work there. Solomon was hired by a Bay Area startup and soon moved on to a job as a software engineer at Medium. In December 2018, she started working at Twitter.
She joined the so-called core services group, which oversees the platform’s digital infrastructure. Her specialty was GraphQL, a query language at the heart of Twitter’s application programming interface. After a while, Solomon was representing Twitter at events and conferences, she said. “I started doing a lot of public speaking,” she said.
In October 2020, she and her husband, Mike Solomon, who also worked at Twitter, got permission to work remotely and moved to Portland from San Francisco. Earlier this year, she said, she was promoted to manager, a role that put her in charge of about 10 engineers. “I had a lot of opportunities to grow,” Solomon said.
She liked the company’s workplace culture. “Twitter has always been about open expression,” she said. “Internally, we’ve always been very vocal. If you have something to say, you never had to worry about repercussions.”
Solomon filled her own Twitter feed with a standard mix of the silly, the irreverent and the earnest. Earlier this year, she posted lyrics to a love song about Diet Coke, photos of herself and her husband dressed for a Renaissance fair, and links to Twitter job openings.
In April, Musk announced that he wanted to buy Twitter. Solomon hinted at her displeasure with the potential change in ownership in a tweet. It included a photo of her usual coffee shop, with a sign in the window saying it was closed for a staff meeting. “He better not be buying my favorite coffee shop too,” Solomon wrote.
Weeks later, Musk reached an agreement with the company’s board of directors. In one of his first public comments on the deal, he announced that he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Donald Trump on Twitter. Musk, having described himself as a “free-speech absolutist,” also said he hoped his critics would remain on Twitter, because “that is what free speech means.”
Solomon was mostly silent on the deal through the summer, when Musk tried to walk away from the sale and lobbed insults at Twitter’s board of directors. On Oct. 27, the sale was completed at last. Solomon responded with a tweet: “sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
The next day, her work life began to change. She said she heard secondhand rumors about tasks Musk wanted prioritized, but she and her colleagues had little or no interaction with the new leadership team, she said. “There was zero communication, and I had no visibility,” Solomon said.
Early in November, Twitter’s roughly 7,500 employees received a terse email from a generic address: “In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce.” The note was signed “Twitter.” On Nov. 3, some people at the company received emails indicating they would be laid off the next day.
That night, Solomon, her husband and a few colleagues headed to Dots Cafe Portland, a lounge on Clinton Street. Phones were on the table, face up, she said. As the work friends talked, they tapped away at their phones, taking part in chats on the Signal app with colleagues in London, Seattle and San Francisco. Messages like “I got hit” were flying across screens, Solomon recalled. “You were seeing your co-workers drop like flies,” she said.
By the next afternoon her team of about 10 engineers was reduced to four. Solomon and her husband had survived the round of layoffs. The next week, she recalled, she awaited further direction from Musk or the new executive team. Nothing came, she said, except for an email alerting employees that remote work would no longer be permitted, with few exceptions.
Many employees learned of Musk’s priorities by watching his Twitter feed, where he posted frequently about company business to his more than 100 million followers. On Nov. 5, he complained about the platform’s search function: “Search within Twitter reminds me of Infoseek in ’98! That will also get a lot better pronto,” he wrote. That same day, he tweeted: “Twitter will soon add ability to attach long-form text to tweets, ending absurdity of notepad screenshots.”
That was more than Solomon and many of her colleagues had heard internally. “Radio silence,” she said. She began to vent her frustration on Twitter.
One of her first tweets in this vein came Nov. 6, shortly after Musk announced a new rule for Twitter users in a tweet: “Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark,” he wrote. He had posted that message after many people on Twitter had changed their names to variations on Musk’s name, most of them mocking.
Chiming in on the new policy, Solomon tweeted: “full legal names only.” She added: “for example my full legal name is ‘sach @ the hellsite’ but if i wanted to change my twitter name to ‘sach @ the combination hellsite dumpster fire’ i’d need to submit my proof of legal name change.”
On Nov. 10, during a week of frequent meetings on changes at the company, Solomon tweeted: “we will be scheduling multiple all-hands every day until morale improves.”
Her own morale did not improve Nov. 13, when Musk criticized Twitter’s programming infrastructure in a tweet: “I’d like to apologize for Twitter being super slow in many countries,” he wrote. “App is doing >1000 poorly batched RPCs just to render a home timeline!”
The batching of RPCs — which stands for “remote procedure call,” a data communication term — related directly to the work of Solomon and her team. In an interview, she said that Musk’s tweet was inaccurate, in her view. If the Twitter app was slow in some countries, she said, “It was not because of the reasons he said. If he had come to me or my team and said, ‘How does this work?’ we would have explained it.”
Solomon added that she interpreted her boss’s statement as “a dig” at the employees who maintain Twitter’s digital infrastructure (known in-house as “infra”). “I was so upset, I couldn’t let that slide,” she said.
She retweeted Musk’s post referring to the “poorly batched RPCs” and added a comment of her own, in which she addressed him directly: “you did not just layoff almost all of infra and then make some sassy remark about how we do batching,” Solomon wrote. “Like did you bother to even learn how graphql works.”
Three minutes later, she added a second tweet that included two expletives. In it, she told Musk that he had no right to criticize the people in charge of Twitter’s infrastructure “while you’re also scrambling to rehire folks you laid off.”
“It was a little impulsive,” she said.
The tweets got a lot of traction, with thousands of likes and retweets, putting Solomon in danger of becoming the main character of the day on Twitter. The next day she found herself locked out of her work email and Slack account after walking Bosworth to the coffee place.
The Return of ‘Bossism’
There was a time in the not too distant past when workers at high-profile media companies could go public on Twitter with complaints about what they considered to be the sexist, racist or other otherwise unfair practices of their employers and still keep their jobs. That time appears to have passed. In 2022, the relative tolerance that some employers had once extended to Twistle-blowing employees wore thin.
Before Solomon challenged Musk in a public forum, two people who worked in media — Erin Overbey, an archivist at The New Yorker magazine; and Felicia Sonmez, a reporter at The Washington Post — gained large Twitter followings as they repeatedly posted about the workplace cultures of their employers.
Overbey posted threads about pay inequity and diversity issues at the magazine, as well as other workplace concerns. In July 2022, she said in a tweet that she had been fired. Overbey did not reply to requests for comment for this article. The New Yorker declined to comment.
Sonmez used Twitter to criticize the Post’s social media policy and other aspects of its workplace culture. She was fired in June via an email that cited “insubordination” and “violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.” Sonmez and the Post declined to comment.
Sonmez and Overbey were taking their concerns to a social media audience amid a shift in the power balance at some media companies, according to Linda Ong, CEO of Cultique, a consulting firm in Los Angeles that advises companies on changing cultural norms.
“There was an employee empowerment movement that gained a lot of traction in the era of MeToo, the early days of COVID and after George Floyd was killed,” Ong said. “But now inflation is high, a possible recession is looming, and there is pressure on corporations. Elon Musk is the poster boy of this, of a doubling down on old fashioned capitalism.”
She added, “‘Wokeism’ is giving way to ‘bossism’ — the ascension of the C-Suite taking its power back from employees.”
Like Overbey, Solomon shared the news that she had lost her job on the very medium that may have hastened her unemployment: “Lol just got fired” because of her posts, she tweeted Nov. 14. “I said it before and I’ll say it again,” she added, “kiss my ass, Elon.”
“I was a little salty,” she said recently, reflecting on her tweets.
The next morning, Solomon’s husband awoke to an email from Twitter. “Your recent behavior has violated company policy,” it said. He was pushed out of his job without further explanation. (He did not tweet at Musk.)
Later that day, a friend texted Sasha Solomon to let her know the “Libs of TikTok” account, which has 1.7 million followers and is known to mock employees of mainstream media companies, had shared screenshots of Solomon’s latest posts. Musk seemed to be addressing Solomon when he replied on Twitter to the Libs of TikTok tweet. “A tragic case of adult onset Tourette’s,” he wrote.
Solomon replied to him: “lol good one champ.”
Despite saying on Twitter that she was fired because of her tweets, Solomon said she isn’t sure why she was let go, given that she had received no explanation beyond the email saying that she had “violated company policy.”
Along with roughly 100 other former Twitter employees, Solomon is being represented by labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan. On Tuesday Liss-Riordan filed “demands for arbitration” on behalf of the former Twitter employees, including Solomon, who say they are entitled to severance payments and other benefits that must be worked out with private arbitrators.
Whatever the outcome, Solomon now finds herself out of a job she couldn’t imagine having back when she was studying computer science in Idaho. “It was a big deal for me, to have a job like that,” she said. “My younger self would have been devastated. When I grew up, getting fired meant you were doing a bad job.”
But she doesn’t regret those tweets.
“I feel good about what I did, despite what happened,” she said. “It feels important to hold people accountable.”