Elon Musk apologizes to disabled Twitter worker he mocked in online feud

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Elon Musk has publicly apologized to a former Twitter employee he mocked online after a dispute between the two went viral on Monday.

The Twitter CEO reports that Haraldur (Halli) Thorleifsson, who founded an Icelandic design agency that was acquired by Twitter in 2021, may return to the company.

The bizarre interaction began when Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk to ask if he still had a job. He said that nine days prior, he and 200 other workers had access to their work computers cut, but Twitter’s human resources department was unable to tell him if he was still an employee.

“You’ve not answered my emails,” Thorleifsson tweeted. “Maybe if enough people retweet you’ll answer me here?”

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The tech billionaire replied and proceeded to grill Thorleifsson about his contributions to the company. Musk eventually claimed Thorleifsson “did no actual work” at Twitter and was using his disability “as his excuse.”

In a now-deleted tweet, Musk also called Thorleifsson “the worst.”

Thorleifsson later wrote that he doesn’t do hands-on design work at the company because he was hired as a senior director “mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance.”

He also has muscular dystrophy, which means he is “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.

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During the exchange, Thorleifsson says Twitter’s human resources department “miraculously” responded to his original question and confirmed that he no longer has a job at Twitter.

On Tuesday evening, after the dispute between Musk and Thorleifsson went viral and garnered international headlines, Musk walked back his claims about the former employee.

“I just did a videocall with Halli to figure out what’s real vs what I was told,” Musk tweeted. “I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on things I was told that were untrue, or in some cases, true, but not meaningful.”

According to the tweet, Thorleifsson is “considering remaining at Twitter,” which could mean the CEO offered him his job back.

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There is speculation that Thorleifsson was on an alleged “do not fire” list at Twitter because his contract stipulates a large payout in the event of his departure. Tech newsletter Platformer reported that acquired founders like Thorleifsson have vested stock in Twitter as part of their compensation agreements.

“Haraldur Thorleifsson, Martijn de Kuijper, Leah Culver, and Esther Crawford had previously been on a ‘do not fire’ list, because it was going to be so expensive to pay them out,” the newsletter reports.

Thorleifsson has used a wheelchair since he was 25 due to dysferlinopathy, and he has started to lose strength in his arms, he said. His experiences with disability inspired him to lead an initiative to install hundreds of wheelchair-accessible ramps in Iceland’s capital, leading the country’s public broadcasting corporation to name him Iceland’s Person of the Year in 2022.

When Thorleifsson sold his design agency Ueno to Twitter, he was lauded in Icelandic media for choosing to receive the purchase price in wages rather than a lump sum payout. With the buyout structured in this way, Thorleifsson would pay higher taxes to Iceland. He said he did this in support of Iceland’s social services, which he has benefitted greatly from.

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Thorleifsson reported on Twitter that he plans on “opening a restaurant in downtown Reykjavik very soon.”

“It’s named after my mom.”

It remains to be seen if Thorleifsson will remain an employee at Twitter.

 — With files from The Associated Press


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