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Elon Musk Apologizes After Publicly Mocking Disabled Employee

Emanuel Shirazi

Haraldur Thorleifsson, a Twitter senior director of product design based in Iceland, has been working for Twitter for two years. He had been trying to log in to his work computer for more than a week. He spoke with the Twitter’s HR department, but they did not have a clear answer to whether he was still a Twitter employee or not. Haraldur, also known as Halli, decided to ask the companies CEO, Elon Musk, via Twitter. “Maybe if enough people retweet, you’ll answer me here?” he wrote on March 6, 2023.

After several tweets from Musk inquiring about Halli’s work and limitations caused by his disability, Twitter’s CEO accused Halli of not doing actual work for the company and faking his disability since he was able to continue posting tweets. Musk tweeted that he has a “prominent, active Twitter account and is wealthy” and the “reason he confronted me in public was to get a big payout.” Halli responded, “I’m typing this on my phone btw”, he then added “it’s easier for me because I only need to use one finger.”

Halli has muscular dystrophy and has been using a wheelchair for the past 20 years. He is a recognized philanthropist by the United Nations and Iceland, and his effort to improve accessibility has resulted in the installation of 1,500 wheelchair ramps across Iceland.

He is a senior director of product design at Twitter, essentially in charge of helping teams move forward by giving them strategic and tactical guidance. Prior to joining Twitter, Halli worked at his startup Ueno until it was acquired by his current employer in 2021. Icelandic media praised his decision to receive the purchase price in wages instead of a lump sum payout. That way he would pay higher taxes that support Iceland’s social services and safety net.

Since Musk acquired Twitter last October, the company has laid off more than half of its 7,500 employees. He claimed that the layoffs were part of an aggressive effort to save the company from financial hardships. Halli was among the 200 employees who were apparently let go in Twitter’s last round of job cuts on February 27, 2023. Elon Musk had a private video call with Halli to be able to speak clearly about the situation. He then apologized to Halli and offered him his position at Twitter once again. Musk tweeted “I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on thing I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true, but not meaningful.” He then added, “He is considering remaining at Twitter.” Halli has not indicated whether he is returning to the company or not.

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