Haraldur Thorleifsson is an Icelandic entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist. The founder of the company Ueno and the 2019 Icelandic businessman of the year, he sold his company to Twitter in 2021, then worked for Twitter until 2023.
Haraldur was born with a genetic muscular dystrophy disease known as dysferlinopathy that forced him to use a wheelchair at the age of 25. His parents were Þorleifur Gunnlaugsson and Anna Jóna Jónsdóttir. In 1988, his mother was killed and his stepfather, actor Jóhann Sigurðarson, was seriously injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
In February 2023, despite being on a “do not fire” list, Haraldur’s employment with Twitter was allegedly terminated after an additional round of layoffs, although he received no confirmation. Following an interaction with Elon Musk on Twitter in March 2023 where Musk “trolled” him,[ Haraldur received confirmation from Twitter’s human resources department that his employment had indeed been terminated. Following Musk’s tweet where he alleged that Haraldur did no real work at Twitter and was using his disability as an excuse, Haraldur responded in a series of tweets where he went over his medical condition while criticizing Musk. Musk later apologized for his “misunderstanding of his situation” after a video call with Haraldur, stating that he was considering remaining at Twitter.
Elon Musk backpedals after mocking disabled Twitter worker in tweet ‘storm’
If you’re not told you are fired, are you really fired? At Twitter, probably. Haraldur Thorleifsson, who until recently was employed at Twitter, logged in to his computer last Sunday to do some work – only to find himself locked out, along with 200 others.
He might have figured, as others before him have in the chaotic months of layoffs and firings since Elon Musk took over the company, that he was out of a job.
Instead, after nine days of no answer from Twitter as to whether or not he was still employed, Thorleifsson decided to tweet at Musk to see if he could catch the billionaire’s attention and get an answer to his Schrödinger’s job situation.
“Maybe if enough people retweet you’ll answer me here?” he wrote on Monday.
Eventually, he got his answer after a surreal Twitter exchange with Musk, who proceeded to quiz him about his work, question his disability and need for accommodations (Thorleifsson has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair) and tweet that Thorleifsson has a “prominent, active Twitter account and is wealthy” and the “reason he confronted me in public was to get a big payout”.
The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm.
Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 7, 2023
While the exchange was going on, Thorleifsson said he received an email that he was no longer employed.
On Tuesday evening, Musk tweeted an apology to Thorleifsson, saying his misunderstanding was “based on things I was told that were untrue”.
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.
He is considering remaining at Twitter.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 7, 2023
Thorleifsson, who lives in Iceland, has nearly 160,000 Twitter followers (Musk has over 130 million). He joined Twitter in 2021, when the company, under the prior management, acquired his startup Ueno.
He was lauded in Icelandic media for choosing to receive the purchase price in wages rather than a lump sum payout. That’s because this way, he would pay higher taxes to Iceland in support of its social services and safety net.
Thorleifsson tweeted to Musk that “The reason I asked you in public is that you (or anyone else at Twitter) didn’t reply to my private messages.”
“You had every right to lay me off. But it would have been nice to let me know!” he added. Thorleifsson’s next move: “I’m opening a restaurant in downtown Reykjavik very soon,” he tweeted. “It’s named after my mom.”
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