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Elon Musk's $43B Bid to Be Twitter's Main Character Forever

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Elon Musk's $43B Bid to Be Twitter's Main Character Forever

Elon Musk to Twitter CEO: ‘💩’

Man who wants to buy Twitter beefing with Twitter CEO on Twitter.
May 16, 2022, 6:00pm
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Image: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

A few days after Elon Musk announced that his deal to buy Twitter is “on hold” because of concern about spam and bots on the platform, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted a thread about how the company tries to fight spam. Musk immediately responded publicly: 💩

The exchange follows tweets from Musk last week that took issue with the company's own estimate that spam accounts make up fewer than 5 percent of accounts on the platform. Besides nebulous allusions to "free speech," reigning in spam on Twitter has been one of Musk's main talking points regarding the planned acquisition. 

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“Let me state the obvious: Spam harms the experience for real people on Twitter, and therefore can harm our business. As such, we are strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can, every single day. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just wrong,” Agrawal tweeted. “We suspend over half a million spam accounts every day, usually before any of you even see them on Twitter. We also lock millions of accounts each week that we suspect may be spam. The hard challenge is that many accounts which look fake superficially – are actually real people. And some of the spam accounts which are actually the most dangerous – and cause the most harm to our users – can look totally legitimate on the surface.”

Agrawal went on to reiterate that the company believes fewer than 5 percent of accounts are "spam," but said that an analysis of its userbase couldn't be conducted externally because Twitter doesn't make all of the needed data public. 

Musk, who apparently has no other way of contacting Agrawal, responded to his thread with a poop emoji and said "so how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter."

Musk has spent much of the last few days either trying to walk back his promise to spend $44 billion on Twitter or, as some observers have speculated, perhaps trying to drive down the ultimate price he'll have to pay for it despite claiming that the supposedly rampant spam problem on the site was one of his main reasons for buying it. After the announcement that the deal was "on hold," Twitter's stock sank. 

"Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users," Musk tweeted Friday. "To find out, my team will do a random sample of 100 followers of @twitter. I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover …"

Musk also tweeted on Saturday that apparently revealing Twitter's sample size was just 100 users was a violation of a non-disclosure agreement, which he says Twitter's lawyers called him out on in a phone call. 

Musk tweeted that "the bots are angry at being counted" and tweeted that "you are being manipulated by the [Twitter timeline] algorithm in ways you don’t realize."

Tagged:elon musk

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Twitter Loses Elon Musk the Board Member, Regains Elon Musk the Shitposter

After Elon Musk opted not to take a board seat at the social media company, the question is who made the decision and why.
April 11, 2022, 3:48pm
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(Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The world’s richest shitposter made it about four days before deciding that he wanted to be able to tweet whatever he wants and take over whatever company he should choose. On Saturday morning, mere days after Twitter revealed Elon Musk would join the company’s board, Musk informed Twitter that he would not be joining after all, CEO Parag Agrawal said in a statement shared publicly on Sunday night. 

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“I believe this is for the best,” said Agrawal, who added that he would “remain open” to Musk’s input, as he remains the company’s top shareholder.

News that Musk wouldn’t join the board led to wild speculation about why he had reversed course, with some zeroing in on Agrawal and noting that his approval had been “contingent” on him passing a background check. One Twitter employee suggested that the company had made the decision, not Musk, and publicly thanked them Monday morning. 

“I’ve kept quiet since the announcement because I wanted to give Twitter leadership a chance to do right by it’s [sic] employees, and they did,” Twitter Director of ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability Rumman Chowdhury wrote Monday. 

But Musk’s own amended SEC filing on Monday morning offered another explanation: Forgoing a board seat meant Musk could continue posting about Twitter and potentially increase his stake in the company or even take it over in the future. In exchange for the board seat, Musk had agreed not to increase his stake in the company above 14.9 percent through the company’s 2024 annual stockholder meeting, according to SEC filings, which effectively meant he wouldn’t take over the company for at least two years.

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The Monday filing states that going forward, Musk may “acquire additional shares of Common Stock” and “express his views to the Board and/or members of the Issuer’s management team and/or the public through social media or other channels” (which is corporate speak for tweet whatever he wants). 

Heroic as it might have been for Twitter to stand up to Musk, or hilarious as it would have been if the world’s richest man simply wanted to avoid (or even failed) a background check, it seems more likely that Twitter had offered Musk a seat as a way to placate and defang him, and that Musk decided in recent days that he didn’t want to be contained.  

Twitter had announced the decision to appoint Musk to the board last Tuesday, soon after it was revealed that Musk has taken a 9.2 percent ownership stake in the company, which made him the company’s largest shareholder.

It was immediately clear that the news could be a problem for leadership. For a while now, Musk had made a hobby out of criticizing Twitter, suggesting in one series of March posts that Twitter did not adhere to free-speech principles and “fundamentally undermines democracy.” (“Is a new platform needed?” he added.)  After his new stake was revealed, Musk almost immediately started trouble again, asking his followers in a tweet last Monday whether Twitter should add an edit button, a terrible idea some Twitter users have nevertheless desired for years.

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Musk’s newfound power was readily apparent, though, as Agrawal responded to Musk’s poll that same day: “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.” 

Retrospectively, Twitter leadership was already springing into action by then. Because by the next morning, Agrawal was announcing Musk was joining the board, saying that the company was “excited” and that he believed Musk would bring “great value” to the company.

The company had understood the risks inherent in inviting the occasionally erratic Tesla CEO onto the board but decided it “was the best path forward” as it meant Musk would have a fiduciary duty to “act in the best interest of the company,” Agrawal said Sunday evening. It also meant his tweet’s about the company could have fallen under SEC review, which has already caused him trouble (and cost him $40 million) in the past. 

Nevertheless, news of Musk’s new role had reportedly led to outcry inside Twitter, and the company announced internally on Thursday that they would be invited to ask Musk about his intentions during an unusual and forthcoming open session. That didn’t seem to reduce the anger. After someone asked Chowdhury if she feared a hostile takeover on Monday morning, she replied, “It would be interesting to see how he’d run a company with no employees.”

Free from the shackles of the board, Musk got back to doing what he does best over the weekend: posting. He wrote tweets that asked "Is Twitter dying?", suggested Twitter removed ads and converted its headquarters into a homeless shelter, and polled followers about whether the company should  "Delete the w in twitter?" After Agrawal released his statement, Musk also appeared to respond with that emoji of the face with a hand over a mouth. 

Like a true poster, he has since deleted most of the tweets. 

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Sex Workers Hope Elon Musk Will Leave Them Alone on Twitter

Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion, and members of a key user demographic—sex workers—have some thoughts.
April 26, 2022, 4:21pm
Elon Musk's Twitter profile next to a Twitter logo.
Getty Images

On Monday, Elon Musk—the richest person on the planet—reached a deal to buy Twitter.com, the platform that has elevated him to main character status. 

After he closed the deal, Musk said in a statement that he wants to “make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.” These vague, conflicting goals, combined with Musk’s long history of bullying and harassment on the very website he now owns, have a lot of people who use Twitter every day on edge. Some people can leave the site—and plenty are screeching that they will—without serious repercussions on their livelihoods. 

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Sex workers, however, can’t abandon Twitter so easily; the platform is the largest social media outlet that still allows pornography to appear alongside everyone else’s shitposts and hot takes. Sex workers are frequently forced to migrate from site to site as platforms create increasingly-strict terms that forbid sexual speech—whether by legislation like FOSTA/SESTA or discriminatory payment processors. For many, Twitter is their main tool for promoting content on clip and subscription sites like OnlyFans. Twitter is a relatively sex-tolerant space that’s a bridge between the mainstream internet and the online porn world. 

“Twitter has generally been regarded as a 'safe haven' for many sex workers. It allows us to promote our work and embrace the full range of our creativity, without the harsh censures that come with other platforms like Instagram and TikTok,” adult content creator Lucy Banks said, adding that this news has sent “shockwaves” through the community. “There are many workers who have established their entire careers on the back of sizable Twitter followings. For them, the uncertainty is more than just having their Twitter accounts threatened, but also their entire income.”

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Several of those I spoke with said that Musk’s emphasis on “free speech” will be good for NSFW content on the platform. “I think we won’t see any negative changes to adult or nsfw content as he tends to be an open minded forward thinker,” said Sofia Rose, noting that he’s said he hopes his biggest critics stay on the platform. “Elon is controversial and seems to enjoy challenging society from a social perspective. I could be wrong, maybe he isn’t that liberal. Either way I’m not about to hold my breath.” 

“I'm not worried about it at all,” said performer Valentina Bellucci, adding that Twitter hasn’t addressed this so far. “Also, it seems like Elon Musk is a pretty open-minded person and doesn't support censorship, so I don't think sex workers should be worried about him and his potential actions.”

Even though Twitter allows hardcore pornography in tweets and is generally a safer place for adult industry people than anything Mark Zuckerberg owns, it’s still been hostile toward sex in the past, with shadowbanning and unexplained account shutdowns being pervasive. Twitter’s tried tackling its bot problem in the past—one of Musk’s biggest priorities as new owner—and it’s resulted in sex workers being hassled by the platform to prove that they’re real people. “Authenticate all humans” could mean anything from identity verification and real-name requirements—which would be terrible for all marginalized users, including sex workers—to a better CAPTCHA system, which would have relatively little impact on user safety. 

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“If the past few years have taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected—and that no platform is safe from anti-porn rhetoric”

“It’s always a worry when new people take over companies, platforms etc, considering how frowned upon our job is and how hard it is to promote on platforms without being banned,” adult content creator Yasmin Baker said. 

Brie Nightwood said that since Musk tweeted last year in support of the cryptocurrency CumRocket—boosting its value from $0.06 to $0.28—he may be open-minded about sex on the platform. “In his announcement about purchasing Twitter, he placed a large emphasis on protecting free speech on the platform so I feel as if this would extend to freedom of self-expression as a 18+ creator,” she said. “I hope my current opinion ages well over these next few months because I would love to see a mainstream platform in which sex workers feel safe!” 

GoAskAlex said she’s hopeful that adult creators will still be able to post explicit content, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point. 

“If the past few years have taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected—and that no platform is safe from anti-porn rhetoric,” she said. Recently, conservative anti-sex work organizations like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which push harmful legislation and policy changes that push sex workers off the internet, have turned their gaze on Twitter; whether Musk is prepared to stand up against that pressure is yet to be seen. “On the flip side, I resent the fact that so many large companies are under the rule of (typically white male) billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. Owning so many facets of the internet gives these men the control of the press, and the ability to dictate what information the general public receives,” GoAskAlex said. “At this point, I'm proceeding with caution.” 

Regardless of Musk’s grand plan for the platform, it’s absolutely concerning (and depressing) that the wealthiest men in the world own and control all of the platforms we use to connect online. “If we want a future where marginalized people, including sex workers, actually have free speech, it's not going to be a world where the richest man on earth can just buy the platform they depend on and change the rules to his liking,” said Evan Greer, director at Fight for the Future.

“It is so difficult to just exist online as a sex worker,” said Banks. “Even when we abide by platform guidelines, our accounts are constantly taken down and restricted. Although there is no indication so far that Twitter will be cracking down on NSFW content, the prospect of future changes creates a feeling of uneasiness.” 

This piece was updated with a quote from Valentina Bellucci.

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Elon Musk Secures $46.5 Billion to Buy Twitter: SEC Filing

Musk says he now has the money to buy Twitter using loans and equity financing from Morgan Stanley and “certain other financial institutions.”
April 21, 2022, 2:57pm
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Image: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Elon Musk has put to bed any idea that he wouldn’t be able to pull together the funding to buy Twitter, saying in a new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he has secured $46.5 billion to buy Twitter.

Musk, the world’s richest man, has been trying to execute a hostile takeover of Twitter for the last few weeks. First, he became the company’s largest shareholder. Then, after rejecting a board seat that would have limited his ability to buy the company, he made a bid to purchase the company outright and take it private. 

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One of the big questions after Musk made his original announcement was whether or not he would be able to pull together the money to buy the company on his own. Though Musk is worth upwards of $250 billion, much of that is tied up in SpaceX and Tesla stock. Now, he has the money, and he  is “seeking to negotiate a definitive agreement for the acquisition of Twitter” and “prepared to begin such negotiations immediately,” according to the filing.

The filing says that Musk has received “commitment letters committing to provide an aggregate of approximately $46.5 billion” from Morgan Stanley and other unnamed financial institutions in the form of loans and equity financing. Musk submitted three commitment letters alongside the filing.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk’s takeover is inevitable; Twitter recently adopted a “poison pill,” or shareholder rights plan, a move first developed in the 1980s to combat a wave of aggressive takeover attempts. 

The plan makes  new, cheaper shares available for sale to existing shareholders if a person or entity (in this case, Musk) tries to buy huge amounts of Twitter’s outstanding stock. 

What happens next is still up in the air, but the move suggests Musk is serious about buying the company, or at least serious about making it look like he’s serious about buying it (it can be hard to tell with him). 

For more about how this could play out, read our interview with an old-school corporate raider about the potential deal.

Tagged:Twitter
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Terminal Main Character Syndrome

Elon Musk is obsessed with Twitter. Why?
April 14, 2022, 4:00pm
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Illustration by Ben Ruby

What does Elon Musk want?

Today, it seems, the richest man in the world and the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX wants to own Twitter. On Thursday, Musk filed paperwork with the SEC to buy the social network where he posts constantly to millions of fans for $43 billion. The surprise move comes after Musk bought 9.2 percent of the company, becoming its largest shareholder, and announced he would be joining the company's board, before doing a 180. CEO Parag Agrawal said the course reversal was "for the best."

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One might argue that Musk should simply focus on his other, generally serious pursuits such as colonizing Mars, creating a space-based internet service, selling electric cars, implementing driverless car technology, and greening the electrical grid. Or that, if he's bored, he could even focus on his second-order, more dubious interests, like building giant tunnels, inventing brain implants, developing/protecting us from superintelligent AI, creating the hyperloop, or making an electric private jet. But Musk's obsession of the last few months is Twitter, a space best known for documenting breaking news and mental breakdowns. 

But Twitter isn't a new obsession for Musk, and, like many others who are chronically online, seems to have a psychological hold over him. Twitter has been crucially important for Musk in ways both good and bad. Twitter is where Musk met Grimes, his ex-wife and the mother of two of his children. His tweets spur endless news cycles and move the stock market, no matter their inanity. They have gotten him sued, and sanctioned by regulators, and they’ve also helped him bolster his status as a modern-day capitalist hero among his fans: a billionaire, a memelord and shitposter, and someone who can leverage the platform to harass his enemies, naysayers, and short-sellers. 

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Since Trump was banned by Twitter, Musk often seems to be its most powerful and polarizing user; its main character in perpetuity. 

The odd thing is that Musk doesn't seem to like Twitter very much, despite having 8 million followers, and despite all the time he spends there. His SEC filing contains an email to Twitter board chairman Bret Taylor in which he says that "the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company." After he announced his 9.2 percent stake, Musk tweeted that Twitter would get an edit button, a hypothetical change that has long been contentious among Twitter users because it would defeat the site's purpose as a live record of what people—powerful or not—are saying. 

One can think of a few reasons why Musk thinks Twitter needs to change dramatically, and in particular have an edit button. A big one is his own Twitter use, which has gotten him into trouble in the past and long attracted criticism from other users. 

In one infamous example, Musk tweeted that he was "considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured," which prompted an SEC fraud charge that Musk eventually settled. Another tweet, in which he called a British caver who helped rescue trapped Thai schoolboys "pedo guy" after he criticized Musk's self-insert into the operation as a "PR stunt," landed Musk in court although he eventually won that defamation suit. 

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Although Musk has self-styled as a defender of free speech as of late, he has often aired his complaints with journalists and the media, in particular when it comes to critical coverage of his companies. He once floated a plan to start a new website to "track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication" to be called Pravda, but that plan didn't work out. "Tried to buy http://Pravda.com, but Russia said no. Turns out they already use it," he tweeted at the time, seemingly unaware that Pravda.com is in fact owned by a Ukrainian news outlet, correcting himself shortly after. 

It's an idea that Musk hasn't let go. "Fake news purveyors would have hysterics, but a ratings system would improve quality of news greatly," he tweeted on April 9, in a thread where he posted a chart showing people's reported trust in media outlets based on their political leanings.

So what does Musk want? And what is this all about? 

It's easy to imagine a world in which Musk buys Twitter and simply shuts it down or makes it unrecognizable in some way, a less litigious tactic than Peter Thiel used to destroy Gawker. Fellow billionaire Mark Cuban has already referenced the idea of Thiel and Musk teaming up. Musk could buy Twitter, declare it a free-speech zone, and become a warrior against "cancel culture" and the woke liberal media. Or maybe Twitter putters on more-or-less as usual, but with greater protections for corporations including Musk's, which are often the subject of intense criticism. Perhaps Musk will earnestly try to run Twitter, a company that has many well-documented problems, and tries to make it better with a staff that is seemingly very concerned about any involvement from him. 

Just as likely is the possibility that this whole thing is a troll and he has no intention of buying Twitter at all. Musk hasn't yet secured funding, according to the SEC filing, and the offer is non-binding. The announcement sent the stock price up, which benefits Musk, who is already the company's largest shareholder. 

Musk is often said to be a real-life superhero similar to Iron Man, and his superpower is directing vast amounts of capital to make his whims a reality. Some of them are successful, while some of them are absurd farces. Either way, we’re all along for the ride whether we like it or not.

Tagged:Twitter
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