The CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc has said he wants to “defeat” spam bots on Twitter, make the algorithms that determine how content is presented to its users publicly available, and prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division, even as he limits censorship.
Yet Musk has not offered details on how he will achieve all this and who will run the company. He has said he plans to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s approximately 7,500 employees fretting about their future. He also said on Thursday he did not buy Twitter to make more money but “to try to help humanity, whom I love.”
Musk terminated Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors over the number of fake accounts on the social media platform.
Agrawal and Segal were in Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters when the deal closed and were escorted out, the sources added.
Twitter, Musk and the executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The $44-billion acquisition is the culmination of a remarkable saga, full of twists and turns, that sowed doubt over whether Musk would complete the deal. It began on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake in the San Francisco company, making him its largest shareholder.
The world’s richest person then agreed to join Twitter’s board, only to balk at the last minute and offer to buy the company instead for $54.20 per share, an offer that Twitter was unsure whether to interpret as another of Musk’s cannabis jokes.
Musk’s offer was real, and over the course of just one weekend later in April, the two sides reached a deal at the price he suggested. This happened without Musk carrying out any due diligence on the company’s confidential information, as is customary in an acquisition.
In the weeks that followed, Musk had second thoughts. He complained publicly that he believed Twitter’s spam accounts were significantly higher than Twitter’s estimate, published in regulatory filings, of less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users. His lawyers then accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the subject.
The acrimony resulted in Musk giving notice to Twitter on July 8 that he was terminating their deal on the grounds that Twitter misled him on the bots and did not cooperate with him. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk in Delaware, where the company is incorporated, to force him to complete the deal.
By then, shares of social media companies and the broader stock market had plunged on concerns that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, as it seeks to fight inflation, will push the US economy into recession. Twitter accused Musk of buyer’s remorse, arguing he wanted to get out of the deal because he thought he overpaid.
Most legal analysts said Twitter had the strongest arguments and would likely prevail in court. Their view did not change even after Twitter’s former security chief Peiter Zatko stepped forward as a whistleblower in August to allege that the company failed to disclose weaknesses in its security and data privacy.
On Oct. 4, just as Musk was set to be deposed by Twitter’s lawyers ahead of the start of their trial later in the month, he performed another u-turn and offered to complete the deal as promised. The Delaware judge gave him an Oct. 28 deadline to close the transaction and avoid the trial.
Since then, Musk has indulged the deal hype. He walked into Twitter’s headquarters on Wednesday with a big grin and carrying a porcelain sink, subsequently tweeting “let that sink in.” He changed his description in his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit.”
He also tried to calm fears among employees that major layoffs are coming and assured advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules would not harm its appeal.
“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” Musk said in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.
Musk has indicated he sees Twitter as a foundation for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and ride hailing.
“The long-term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value,” Musk said on Tesla’s call with analysts on Oct 19.
But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of monthly overall users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.
Musk said in May he would reverse the ban on Donald Trump, who was removed after the attack on the US Capitol, although the former US President Donald Trump has said he won’t return on the platform. He has instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social.
Timeline of billionaire Elon Musk’s bid to control Twitter
January 31: Musk starts buying shares of Twitter in near-daily installments, amassing a 5% stake in the company by mid-March.
March 26: Musk, who has tens of millions of Twitter followers and is active on the site, says he is giving “serious thought” to building an alternative to Twitter, questioning the platform’s commitment to “free speech” and whether Twitter is undermining democracy. He also privately reaches out to Twitter board members including his friend and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
March 27: After privately informing Twitter of his growing stake in the company, Musk starts conversations with its CEO and board members about potentially joining the board. Musk also mentions taking Twitter private or starting a competitor, according to later regulatory filings.
April 4: A regulatory filing reveals that Musk has rapidly become the largest shareholder of Twitter after acquiring a 9% stake, or 73.5 million shares, worth about $3 billion.
April 5: Musk is offered a seat on Twitter’s board on the condition he amass no more than 14.9% of the company’s stock. CEO Parag Agrawal said in a tweet that “it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board.”
April 9: After exchanging pleasantries and bonding by text message over their love of engineering, a short-lived relationship between Agrawal and Musk sours after Musk publicly tweets “Is Twitter dying?” and gets a message from Agrawal calling the criticism unhelpful. Musk tersely responds: “This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”
April 11: Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announces Musk will not be joining the board after all.
April 14: Twitter reveals in a securities filing that Musk has offered to buy the company outright for about $44 billion.
April 15: Twitter’s board unanimously adopts a “poison pill” defense in response to Musk’s proposed offer, attempting to thwart a hostile takeover.
April 21: Musk lines up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter. Twitter board is under pressure to negotiate.
April 25: Musk reaches a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and take the company private. The outspoken billionaire has said he wanted to own and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.
April 29: Musk sells roughly $8.5 billion worth of shares in Tesla to help fund the purchase of Twitter, according to regulatory filings.
May 5: Musk strengthens his offer to buy Twitter with commitments of more than $7 billion from a diverse group of investors including Silicon Valley heavy hitters like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.
May 10: In a hint at how he would change Twitter, Musk says he’d reverse Twitter’s ban of former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, calling the ban a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”
May 13: Musk declares his plan to buy Twitter “temporarily on hold.” Musk says he needs to pinpoint the number of spam and fake accounts on the social media platform. Shares of Twitter tumble, while those of Tesla rebound sharply.
June 6: Musk threatens to end his $44 billion agreement to buy Twitter, accusing the company of refusing to give him information he requested about its spam bot accounts.
July 8: Musk says he will abandon his offer to buy Twitter after the company failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts.
July 12: Twitter sues Musk to force him to complete the deal. Musk soon countersues.
July 19: A Delaware judge says the Musk-Twitter legal dispute will go to trial in October.
August 23: A former head of security at Twitter alleges the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defences and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread misinformation. Musk eventually cites the whistleblower as a new reason to scuttle his Twitter deal.
October 5: Musk offers to go through with his original proposal to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Twitter says it intends to close the transaction after receiving Musk’s offer.
October 6: Delaware judge delays Oct. 17 trial until November and gives both sides until Oct. 28 to reach agreement to close the deal.
October 20: The Washington Post reports that Musk told prospective Twitter investors that he plans to lay off 75% of the company’s 7,500 employees.
October 26: Musk posts a video of himself entering Twitter headquarters carrying a kitchen sink, indicating that the deal is set to go through.
October 27: In a message to advertisers, Musk says Twitter won’t become a “free-for-all hellscape.”