Videos of people outside Twitter office in San Francisco with boxes of personal belongings surfaced on the internet on Friday.
Videos of their conversations with media claimed that they had been fired by tech billionaire Elon Musk, who closed the deal to buy Twitter on Thursday.
These people claimed that they were executives at Twitter, with one of them calling himself Rahul Ligma.
While a number of top Twitter executives, including Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal, were indeed fired soon after Musk's takeover of Twitter, the people with boxes outside Twitter offices were not among them. In fact, they were not fired at all. Moreover, it emerged that they are not Twitter staffers at all and are mere pranksters playing a joke on media — which fell for the prank.
Despite obvious holes in their story, starting from their very names, well-established media outlets like CNBC, Bloomberg, and ABC fell for the joke and misreported that Musk has began mass firings at Twitter. Among those who fell most prominently for the prank was CNBC's Deirdre Bosa, who reported on Twitter that "entire team of data engineers" has been fired and these two pranksters were amongst the staffers let go.
Despite several users, including journalists, pointing out that she has shared fake news, Bosa did not correct her tweets but doubled down.
In later tweets, Bosa acknowledged there are questions about the truth of their claims but she did not outright retract her earlier report.
"Earlier today, we reported on CNBC that a team of data engineers was let go at Twitter based on the account of two people who told us they were a part of that team. We have not been able to confirm that they were actual employees or that the co has laid off anyone today," said Bosa in a later tweet, resorting to the 'can't confirm or deny' line.
How the prank played out?
The most obvious sign that it was a prank was the name of one of the Twitter 'employees'.
One of the employees carrying boxes outside Twitter said his name was Rahul Ligma, which itself is a joke.
"Ligma" is an internet slang for "lick my balls" with "lick my" being pronounced as "ligma". Besides this obvious reference, there was no mention of Rahul Ligma anywhere in Twitter's records.
"That name [Rahul Ligma] does not exist in Twitter’s Slack or email system. There is also no evidence that the employee exists on LinkedIn," reported The Verge.
TMZ further reported, "Another hoax victim was local TV news reporter Suzanne Phan of ABC 7 Bay Area, who tweeted video of the media scrum with Mr Ligma who told falsely told reporters he was fired during a Zoom meeting and didn't know where he would work next."
What did Rahul Ligma say?
In his now-viral chat with reporters, Rahul, if that's his real name at all, made a number of claims.
Criticising Musk's ownership of Twitter and the action of taking it private, Rahul said that it would have far-reaching consequences for the society. He even went on to claim that Obama phenomenon would have never happened if Musk owned Twitter at the time.
The Verge has reported some of the claims:
- "It makes me worry about the future of our democracy...the future of celebrity conservatorship. I mean, when Britney [Spears] happened..."
- "Michelle Obama wouldn't have happened if Elon Musk owned Twitter. Obama in 2008 wouldn't have happened without Elon Musk owning Twitter.
- "I even own a Tesla, man. I’m a big fan of clean energy, climate change, even free speech too."
Lay-offs at Twitter?
While it has been confirmed that current reports of mass firings at Twitter, even if by sources as well-established as CNBC, are false, there have indeed been serious concerns over the finances of Twitter and fears that Musk might indeed resort to lay offs.
Experts have pointed out that the value at which Musk has purchased Twitter —$44 billion— is very bloated.
Webush analyst Dan Ives called Twitter a "troubled asset", according to Fox Business.
"The easy part for Musk was buying Twitter, the difficult part and Everest-like uphill battle looking ahead will be fixing this troubled asset," noted Ives, according to Fox.
He further noted, "The $44 billion price tag for Twitter will go down as one of the most overpaid tech acquisitions in the history of merger and acquisition deals on the Street in our opinion. With fair value that we would peg at roughly $25 billion, Musk buying Twitter remains a major head scratcher that ultimately he could not get out of once the Delaware Courts got involved."
The fears of lay offs stem from a report from last week that said that Musk has said he would fire up to 75 per cent of Twitter staffers. However, that would not be practical, as Tech Crunch reported that such a sudden massive round of firing would render Twitter inoperable. Moreover, Bloomberg reported, citing sources, that there are no immediate plans to carry out such a round of lay offs.