NEW YORK (Reuters) – Elon Musk has acquired Twitter (TWTR.N) With brutal efficiency, he fired top CEOs, while providing little clarity on how to achieve the ambitions he’s set for the influential social media platform.
“The bird is released,” he wrote on Twitter after he completed the $44 billion acquisition Thursday, referring to Twitter’s bird logo in an apparent sign of his desire to see the company have fewer restrictions on the content that can be posted.
CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O) Describing himself as an absolute freedom-of-speech, he also said he wanted to prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber of hatred and division.
Other goals include the desire to “defeat” Twitter spam programs and to make the algorithms that determine how content is delivered to their users publicly available.
However, Musk did not provide details on how he would achieve all this and who would run the company. He said he plans to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s 7,500 employees worried about their future. He also said Thursday that he did not buy Twitter to make more money but to “try to help the humanity I love”.
Less than 10% of the 266 Twitter employees who took part in a survey about the messaging app Blind expected their employment to continue within three months. Blind allows employees to voice grievances anonymously after subscribing to company emails.
Musk has fired Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, and head of legal and policy Vijaya Jade, according to people familiar with the matter. He accused them of misleading him and misleading Twitter investors about the number of fake accounts on the platform.
The sources added that Agrawal and Sejal were at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters when the deal was closed and they were escorted.
Musk, who also runs the rocket company SpaceX, plans to become the interim CEO of Twitter according to a person familiar with the matter and following an earlier report by Reuters. Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the matter, said that Musk also plans to remove the permanent ban on users.
Twitter, Musk, and executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Before the deal was struck, Musk walked into Twitter headquarters on Wednesday with a big smile and a porcelain sink, then tweeted, “Let this sink in.” He changed his Twitter profile description to “Chief Twit”.
Musk said in May he would rescind Twitter’s ban on Donald Trump, whose account was removed after the attack on the US Capitol. A representative for Trump did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, but the former US president said earlier that he would not return to the platform and instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social.
Musk has tried to allay Twitter employees’ fears of massive layoffs, assuring advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules won’t hurt its appeal.
“It is clear that Twitter cannot become a free place for everyone, where anything can be said without consequences!” Musk said in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.
As news of the deal spread, some Twitter users were quick to report their willingness to walk away.
“I’d be happy to leave on a pulse if Musk behaves, well, as we all expect,” said a user with the @mustlovedogsxo account.
Elon Musk tweeted that he confronted Bill Gates about short selling Tesla
European regulators also reiterated previous warnings that, under Musk’s leadership, Twitter must still comply with the region’s Digital Services Act, which imposes heavy fines on companies if they do not control illegal content.
“In Europe, the bird will fly according to EU rules,” EU industry chief Thierry Breton wrote on Twitter Friday morning.
European Parliament legislator and civil rights advocate Patrick Breyer has suggested that people look for alternatives where privacy is a priority.
“Twitter knows our characters dangerously well because of its pervasive monitoring of every click. Now that knowledge will fall into Musk’s hands.”
Musk has indicated that he sees Twitter as the basis for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and transportation services.
But Twitter struggles to engage its most active users, who are vital to business. These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of total monthly users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.
Susanna Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdowne, said Musk will face a challenge in building revenue “because the controversial opinions he seems to want to give more freedom to are often unpalatable to advertisers.”
The road to the deal to fruition was littered with twists and turns that raised doubts as to whether it would ever happen. It began on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake in Twitter, becoming the company’s largest shareholder.
The richest person in the world then agreed to join Twitter’s board of directors, but declined at the last minute and offered to buy the company instead for $54.20 per share.
Over the course of just one weekend later in April, the two sides reached an agreement without Musk performing any due diligence on the company’s confidential information.
In the weeks that followed, Musk had other ideas. He publicly complained about spam accounts on Twitter and his lawyers accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the matter.
The acrimony led to Musk telling Twitter on July 8 that he had closed the deal. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk to force him to complete the acquisition.
By then, the stock market had been plunged into worries about a possible recession. Twitter accused Musk of remorse for the buyer, arguing that he wanted to get out of the deal because he thought he overpaid. Most legal analysts believe that Twitter is likely to prevail in court.
On October 4, Musk made another turn, offering to complete the deal as promised. He managed to do so, just a day before the deadline to avoid going to trial.
Twitter shares ended trading Thursday 0.3% higher at $53.86, just below the agreed-upon price. The stock will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.Reuters Graphics Reuters
(Shila Dang and Greg Rumiliotis report) in New York; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemin in Paris, Fu Yun Che in Brussels, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Myung Kim in Singapore, Subanta Mukherjee in Stockholm and Anirban Sen in New York; Editing by Nick Ziminsky, Edwina Gibbs, Matt Skovham, Elaine Hardcastle
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