By BARBARA ORTUTAY, TOM KRISHER and MATT O’BRIEN
Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter after a protracted legal battle and months of uncertainty. The question now is what the billionaire Tesla CEO will actually do with the social media platform.
The $44 billion takeover means Twitter is becoming a private company that everyday investors will no longer be able to buy shares in. The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading in the company’s stock on Friday, and the shares will be delisted on Nov. 8, according to a filing with securities regulators.
On Thursday, Musk ousted three top Twitter executives, according to two people familiar with the deal. A shakeup was widely expected, but Musk has otherwise made contradictory statements about his vision for the company — and shared few concrete plans for how he will run it.
That has left Twitter’s users, advertisers and employees to parse his every move in an effort to guess where he might take the company. Many are looking to see if he will welcome back a number of influential conservative figures banned for violating Twitter’s rules — speculation that is only heightened by upcoming elections in Brazil, the U.S. and elsewhere.
“I will be digging in more today,” he tweeted early Friday, in response to a conservative political podcaster who has complained that the platform favors liberals and secretively downgrades conservative voices. Former President Donald Trump is among those who have been banned. As is his ally Roger Stone, who wrote on Telegram that he was “waiting patiently to regain my voice.”
In the hours after Musk’s takeover, conservative personalities on the site also began recirculating long-debunked conspiracy theories, including about COVID-19 and the 2020 election, in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to “test” whether Twitter’s policies on misinformation were still being enforced. Popular right-wing pundits tweeted buzzwords such as “ivermectin,” and “Trump won” to see whether they’d be penalized for content they suggested would previously have been flagged.
The mercurial Musk has not made it easy to anticipate his moves.
He has criticized Twitter’s dependence on advertisers, but made a statement Thursday that seemed aimed at soothing their fears. He has complained about restrictions on speech on the platform — but then vowed he wouldn’t let it become a “hellscape.” And for months it wasn’t even clear if he wanted to control the company at all.
After Musk signed a deal to acquire Twitter in April, he tried to back out of it, leading the company to sue him to force him to go through with the acquisition. A Delaware judge had ordered that the deal be finalized by Friday.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives estimated that Musk and his investors overpaid. Even Musk has said the $44 billion price tag for Twitter was too high but that the company had great potential.
The payment “will go down as one of the most overpaid tech acquisitions in the history of M&A deals on the Street, in our opinion,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “With fair value that we would peg at roughly $25 billion, Musk buying Twitter remains a major head scratcher that ultimately he could not get out of once the Delaware Courts got involved.”
After months of uncertainty, a series of moves by Musk this week signaled that the deal would in fact go through.
On Wednesday, he strolled into the company’s San Francisco headquarters carrying a porcelain sink, changed his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit,” and tweeted “Entering Twitter HQ — let that sink in!” Then on Thursday, he tweeted, “the bird is freed,” a reference to Twitter’s logo.
That same day, the people familiar with the deal said Musk had fired CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and Chief Legal Counsel Vijaya Gadde. Both people insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deal. Segal confirmed his departure in a series of tweets Friday.
At the same time, Musk sought to assuage advertisers — Twitter’s chief source of revenue — that he didn’t want the platform to become a “free-for-all hellscape.” His letter was an attempt to address concerns that his plans to promote free speech by cutting back on moderating content will open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away users.
Musk has previously expressed distaste for advertising and Twitter’s dependence on it, suggesting more emphasis on other business models such as paid subscriptions that won’t allow big corporations to dictate policy on how social media operates. But on Thursday, he assured advertisers he wants Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world.”
The note is a shift from Musk’s position that Twitter is unfairly infringing on free speech rights by blocking misinformation or graphic content, said Pinar Yildirim, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
But it’s also a realization that having no content moderation is bad for business, putting Twitter at risk of losing advertisers and subscribers, she said.
“You do not want a place where consumers just simply are bombarded with things they do not want to hear about, and the platform takes no responsibility,” Yildirim said.
As concerns rise about the direction of Twitter’s content moderation, European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted to Musk on Friday that “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules.”
Breton and Musk met in May and appeared in a video together in which Musk said he agreed with the 27-nation bloc’s strict new online regulations. Its Digital Services Act threatens big tech companies with billions in fines if they don’t police their platforms more strictly for illegal or harmful content such as hate speech and disinformation.
Musk has also spent months deriding Twitter’s “spam bots” and making sometimes conflicting pronouncements about Twitter’s problems and how to fix them.
Thursday’s note to advertisers shows a newfound emphasis on advertising revenue, especially a need for Twitter to provide more “relevant ads” — which typically means targeted ads that rely on collecting and analyzing users’ personal information.
Musk is expected to speak to Twitter employees directly Friday, according to an internal memo cited in several media outlets, amid internal confusion and low morale tied to fears of layoffs or a dismantling of the company’s culture and operations.
This story has been updated to correct the language in the tweet by Musk to “the bird is freed,” not “the bird has been freed.”
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