July 11, 2022

Is This the End of Musk’s Twitter Bid?

In a blow to free speech, Elon Musk announced that he’s had enough of Twitter, its fake accounts, and its unwillingness to fully disclose them.

It’s hard to know whether this is the end or, as Churchill said, “the end of the beginning.” But it doesn’t look good for those of us who’d been looking forward to a free and fair marketplace of ideas on Twitter. As the Associated Press reports:

Elon Musk announced Friday that he will abandon his tumultuous $44 billion offer to buy Twitter after the company failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts. Twitter immediately fired back, saying it would sue the Tesla CEO to uphold the deal. The likely unraveling of the acquisition was just the latest twist in a saga between the world’s richest man and one of the most influential social media platforms, and it may portend a titanic legal battle ahead.

A letter sent by Musk’s legal team says Twitter is in “material breach of multiple provisions of that Agreement [and] appears to have made false and misleading representations upon which Mr. Musk relied when entering into the Merger Agreement.”

The letter notes further: “For nearly two months, Mr. Musk has sought the data and information necessary to ‘make an independent assessment of the prevalence of fake or spam accounts on Twitter’s platform.’ … This information is fundamental to Twitter’s business and financial performance and is necessary … to ensure Twitter’s satisfaction of the conditions to closing, to facilitate Mr. Musk’s financing and financial planning for the transaction, and to engage in transition planning for the business.”

What’s interesting is that Twitter, which had originally rebuffed Musk’s purchase bid, isn’t pushing for Musk to cough up an agreed-upon breakup fee of $1 billion. Instead, the underachieving social media platform looks like it’s getting ready to fight the world’s richest man to complete the deal, which the company’s board has approved and which its CEO, Parag Agrawal, has said he wants to complete.

Musk, in typical Musk fashion, mocked Twitter with a tweet that included four separate photos of Musk laughing along with a caption for each: “They said I couldn’t buy Twitter; Then they wouldn’t disclose bot info; Now they want to force me to buy Twitter in court; Now they have to disclose bot info in court.”

Since then, he’s followed up with a picture of Chuck Norris playing chess with a single white pawn against the entire black field. “Chuckmate,” said Musk.

None of this drama was lost on Donald Trump, whose Truth Social platform has launched as a free-speech alternative to Twitter. “THE TWITTER DEAL IS DEAD,” he gloated. “LONG LIVE THE ‘TRUTH.’”

Again, we’re not sure the Twitter deal is dead, or whether this is simply more brinkmanship from a master. But if the mercurial Musk does indeed back out permanently, Twitter will be the worse for it. And so will those who favor free expression and view censorship as the coward’s last resort. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes:

Elon Musk’s decision Friday to call off his purchase of Twitter is a loss for the social-media site as well as for political free speech. The only winners will be progressives who support the site’s censorship of views that don’t conform to theirs on politics, climate and many other subjects. … Twitter can help itself by ending its one-sided political censorship, but its woke staff and corporate culture might make that impossible. The company might find it needed Mr. Musk more than he needed Twitter.

The issue of Twitter’s fake accounts — its spam bots — is nothing new to either party. Musk mentioned it months ago. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever,” he said in late April, “by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”

Time will tell whether Musk is indeed willing to blow up the deal over those bots and whether the asking price of Twitter was too much for his oft-stated appreciation of free speech.

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