On Wednesday night, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, appeared on stage at the Code Conference in frustration and protest. “I think a lot of people in this room were not fully prepared for me to come out on stage,” she told interviewer Julia Boorstin, CNBC’s senior media and technology correspondent.
Yaccarino seemed nervous. Earlier in the day, he discovered that Kara Swisher, co-founder of Code Conference, had booked a surprise guest to appear an hour before her: Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety. He has openly criticized the direction Elon Musk has taken the site.
In his interview with Swisher, Roth told how Musk put him in personal danger. Musk suggested on Twitter that Roth had advocated the sexualization of children, a completely unfounded claim, prompting death threats and the publication of his online address. “I had to sell my house. I had to move,” Roth said. He encouraged Yaccarino to think about how Musk could turn against her, too, and said the site was bleeding users and advertisers.
These criticisms are nothing new, but Yaccarino was visibly upset at having to appear shortly after a well-known critic of her company. “I will be happy to respond,” Yaccarino said. “I think they gave me about 45 minutes (notice).” The conference ballroom, which seats 300, was packed for her appearance; I caught Swisher reclining on a couch in the back before things started, waiting to see the results of her surprise.
“I work at X, he worked at Twitter.”
Throughout the interview, Yaccarino repeated that he’s only been on the job at X for 12 weeks, as if to say there’s only so much he could have done by now. But in that time, he’s managed to do one thing consistently: dismiss concerns about X, whether it’s moderate divestment from the platform or Musk’s chaotic leadership.
His dismissive stance was on full display Wednesday night. She dismissed Roth’s claims about the platform’s performance as outdated (“I work at X, he worked at Twitter,” she said); He said the Anti-Defamation League, which Musk is threatening to sue, pays too much attention to anti-Semitism on X and not enough to the improvements the platform has made; and argued that despite the panic surrounding the flight of advertisers, most of the greats are returning.
These were not satisfactory answers if you are a person who thinks Musk is destroying Twitter or stoking harassment. But they were, for the most part, safe answers. Yaccarino responded slowly and carefully, and she seemed determined to brush aside the complaints as mere collateral damage to reinventing the platform.
“X is a new company that is building a foundation based on freedom of speech and expression,” he said at the beginning.
“We talk about everything.”
Boorstin urged Yaccarino to get hard numbers on how X is doing amid all these crises. Yaccarino said the company would be profitable “at the beginning of the 24th.” The platform has between 200 and 250 million daily active users. “Something like that,” Yaccarino said. He went to check his phone, as if to confirm the number, but never finished verifying. Later, he suggested that X has 540 million monthly active users and 225 million daily active users. (That would be slightly less than the 238 million daily users Twitter had before the acquisition.)
It was difficult to know if Yaccarino was not prepared enough or if she simply did not want to give definitive answers. At one point, Boorstin asked about Musk’s recent statement that X will eventually charge all users to post on the platform, and Yaccarino seemed unable to talk about the proposed change.
“You can repeat it?” -Yaccarino asked.
“Elon Musk announced that he is moving to a fully subscription-based service,” Boorstin said. “There is nothing free about using X.”
“Did you say we were going to do it specifically or are you thinking about it?” -Yaccarino asked.
“He said that’s the plan,” Boorstin said. “Did he consult you before announcing that?”
“We talked about everything,” Yaccarino said. She never clarified X’s plans.
The interview was full of difficult moments like this, but Yaccarino did not run away. When time for the interview was up, Boorstin said she would let Yaccarino stay as long as he wanted, and Yaccarino agreed. Even when Yaccarino finally said he needed to leave, he stayed to ask a few more questions. At nearly 40 minutes, it was the longest interview of the conference.
It was a long conversation and much more complicated than Yaccarino would have wanted to have. At the end of the interview, he attempted to put aside concerns about X with a statement of confidence. “It’s a new day in X and I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
But it could never be that simple. As long as Musk is in the mix, he will always need more time to explain what’s going on at X.