Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, had a rough go at it during Code Conference, the influential tech conference held this year at a beachside Ritz-Carlton in Southern California.
About an hour before her scheduled appearance, a surprise guest came to the stage—Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth, who spoke at length about the aftermath of working as then-Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s right-hand man. Roth was forced to sell his home as a result of the harassment he received, largely at the hands of Musk, who falsely accused him of endorsing children’s access to sexually explicit content.
Coming on the heels of an extensive profile detailing many of Yaccarino’s early stumbles, the live interview was fraught with non-answers, tense responses to Roth’s critiques and repeated defenses of her new boss. Coverage of the event described it as “awkward,” “defiant” and even “a dumpster fire.”
Some, including an Axios editor and Musk ally Jason Calacanis, accused the conference of sandbagging Yaccarino. Famed tech journalist Kara Swisher, who interviewed Roth during the conference, clapped back, saying Yaccarino was given advance notice of Roth’s surprise presence and disputed claims that the conference set her up for the discomfiting Q&A.
1. She and her PR person knew all day and were also offered to go on before @yoyoel too. Their choice as they wanted the last word, I guess. I also sent a text to her and everyone involved early this morning. No one was sandbagged. Yoel was asked a week ago btw. Do you think I… https://t.co/JgvCORkMHC— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) September 28, 2023
Here are some of the most confounding—and uncomfortable—moments that took place during the interview.
The X CEO seemingly dodged a question about whether she’s truly the leader of the company—a concern that has dogged her for as long as she was named as the company’s top executive. Musk continues to head the technical aspects of the site as chief technology officer while Yaccarino ostensibly runs the business side. She defended X’s organizational structure and brushed off any concerns that she’s just a figurehead. Yaccarino came to X from NBCUniversal, where she was a highly respected executive managing advertising and partnerships.
“I don’t care what the structure is at Meta, but who wouldn’t want Elon Musk sitting by their side running product?” she said, according to multiple news outlets, to a smattering of raised hands and a round of laughter from the crowd.
At least it wasn’t a chorus of boos.
Yaccarino assured CNBC Senior Correspondent Julia Boorstin, who was interviewing her, that she and Musk are aligned on everything.
But that certainly didn’t seem like the case when Boorstin asked the X CEO about a new monthly fee for all users of the platform. Musk announced the bombshell during a livestreamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, arguing the fee is necessary to handle bots on the platform.
After a beat, Yaccarino asked Boorstin to repeat the question before responding with one of her own.
“Did he say we were moving to it specifically or is thinking about it?” she said, seemingly unaware of what Musk said on the site last week.
“He said that’s the plan," Boorstin replied. "So did he consult you before he announced that?”
“We talk about everything,” Yaccarino said with visible tension on her face.
Apparently not that.
Roth issued something of a warning to Yaccarino during his interview at Code Conference, held just a couple of hours before the X CEO stepped on stage.
He sympathized with Yaccarino, acknowledging her concerns about the harassment she’s faced since becoming CEO. But he implored her to consider the risks she might face if their working relationship goes south.
“You should be worried,” he said. “I wish I had been more worried.”
Yaccarino, for the most part, brushed off those concerns.
"Yoel and I don’t know each other, " she said. "He doesn’t know me; I don’t know him. I work at X; he worked at Twitter.
“The company that was described about an hour ago no longer exists,” she added.
Yaccarino continued to defend Musk, even when Boorstin asked point-blank if his tweets—constant and unpredictable—made her job harder.
“The foundation of X is based on free expression and freedom of speech,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have that opportunity to speak their opinion, no matter who they are, including Elon, including you, Julia. We can’t just decide who doesn’t get to post or have their opinion because we don’t like it.”
She doubled down in support of Musk’s free speech, even as a group of 154 Jewish leaders published a letter blasting Musk for expressing antisemitic views on the platform. On Thursday, Musk called himself “aspirationally Jewish” in a live chat with conservative Jewish commentator Ben Shapiro.
Musk has threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, which he has identified as the reason behind the decline in ad revenue. That tweet came just a few days after a meeting between Yaccarino and the organization's Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Greenblatt meant to smooth things over between the two organizations.
In the Code Conference interview, Yaccarino listed some grievances with Greenblatt for not acknowledging the steps that X has taken to address antisemitism.
“I wish that would be different,” she said. “We’re looking into that.”
Joshua Bote can be reached at email@example.com