Twitter has taken legal action to prevent a potentially damaging loss of the source code that underpins its service, after parts of the code and other software were posted online.

The social media company acted on Friday to have the code removed from GitHub, a repository widely used in the software world to publish open-source code for anyone to use. It also sought a subpoena that would force GitHub to reveal anything it knew about the identity of the person who disclosed the code.

The underlying software instructions that determine how programs function, source code is closely guarded to prevent hackers gaining insights that could be used to attack the system.

In a federal court filing in the Northern District of California, Twitter revealed that late on Friday, GitHub had responded to a legal notice to take down the code from its site. According to Julian Moore, director of Twitter’s internal legal team, the leaked software included “proprietary source code for Twitter’s platform and internal tools”. It was unclear how long the code was available online before Twitter stepped in.

The potential loss of Twitter’s most important intellectual property follows a period of internal turmoil after Elon Musk bought the company for $44bn in October last year. This has led to warnings that its underlying technology could face disruption, including sabotage by disaffected workers.

The news comes after Musk on Friday offered Twitter employees stock awards based on a new valuation of about $20bn, according to a person familiar with the matter and first reported by the Information.

Musk has been attempting to bring the lossmaking company to financial health while also facing an advertiser exodus and having to make $1.5bn of interest payments on the $13bn of debt he used for the purchase of Twitter.

The source code was published by a user known only as “FreeSpeechEnthusiast” — an apparent jab at Elon Musk, who said when he bought Twitter last year that he was doing it to protect free speech.

According to former employees, Musk has been concerned about possible sabotage of Twitter’s operations since completing his divisive acquisition of the site. He alienated many employees from the start after making clear that he intended to overhaul a culture he claimed had led to unwarranted censorship and said many workers would lose their jobs.

Twitter took steps to try to protect its core technology when carrying out its first sweeping job cuts, axing about half of its 7,500-strong workforce. At the time, it implemented a temporary code freeze to prevent any changes being made to its application while the jobs cuts were being carried out.

Alex Spiro, Musk’s lawyer and a partner at Quinn Emanuel, which sought the subpoena against GitHub, did not respond to a request for comment.


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