Mercurial billionaire Elon Musk now says he wants to buy Twitter outright, taking it privately to restore its commitment to “free speech.” But his offer, which seemed to fall flat with investors on Thursday, raises as many questions as it answers.
Among them: Is he serious? Can he get the money together? Would a sale make shareholders happy? And what would the social platform look like if he succeeds?
Why is Musk interested in Twitter?
Ostensibly because the service, he says, isn’t living up to its potential as a “platform for free speech.” Musk insists that he’s not interested in making money off Twitter. On Thursday, he said his motivation sprang from the realization that “having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.”
Like other social media platforms, Twitter suspends accounts for violating content standards, including violence, hate speech, or harmful misinformation. Its suspension of Donald Trump angered the former president’s followers.
Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” — but he has blocked Twitter users who question or disagree with him. Regulators have also accused his car company, Tesla, of retaliating against Black workers who spoke up about discrimination.
Where will he get funds to buy Twitter?
No. And his regulatory filing says the offer is subject to “completion of anticipated financing.”
During a Thursday on-stage interview at the TED 2022 conference, Musk noted vaguely that he has “sufficient assets” to complete the deal, adding, “I can do it if possible.”
Can he buy Twitter from his wealth?
According to Forbes, Musk is the world’s wealthiest man, with a nearly $265 billion fortune. But much of his money is tied up in Tesla stock — he owns about 17 percent of the company, according to FactSet, which is valued at more than $1 trillion — and SpaceX, his privately held space company. It’s unclear how much cash Musk has.
“I think this will be somewhat painful, and I’m not sure that I will be able to acquire it,” Musk said in his Thursday interview.
Musk could sell Tesla stock to raise money — which could hurt Tesla’s share price — or borrow against his stock holdings. But Forbes notes that he has already used more than half of his Tesla stake as loan collateral.
Would Twitter shareholders be happy with this offer?
The stock traded lower than the offer price of $54.20 a share Thursday, suggesting investors doubt the deal will go through. The shares have traded above $70 in the past 12 months and peaked at $80.75 in February 2021.
Since co-founder Jack Dorsey’s departure in November left Twitter with a new CEO, Parag Agrawal, whose initial actions have involved internal reorganizations. There have not been any significant changes to Twitter, which, despite its outsized influence due to high-profile celebrity and politician posters and a devoted base of journalists, has fewer users than social media rivals like Facebook and TikTok. Musk himself is a huge user, with more than 81 million followers.
Still a significant shareholder, Dorsey has not indicated what he thinks of Musk’s offer.
Twitter said only that it would look at the offer. A spokesperson declined to answer if the board will put a defense against a hostile takeover known as a “poison pill.”
What might be Musk’s plans for Twitter?
It’s hard to know with Musk, and even trying to game out this hypothetical might be taking the man too seriously. By saying Twitter is not living up to its potential to be a “platform for free speech,” he says he would scale back content moderation. But he has also called for the company to crack down on spam accounts, which implies more restraint.
He proposed dropping ads from the service — ads are how Twitter makes money — and making its San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter. He also seems to approve of a button to edit tweets.
What concerns does Musk have?
Social-media companies struggle to contain misinformation and hate speech. Musk, whose tweets can lead online bullies to swarm his critics online, does not seem keen on content moderation.
“Regulators worldwide will be wincing at the potential free speech implications should Musk’s takeover bid succeed,” said GlobalData analyst Rachel Foster-Jones. “Musk is serious about promoting free speech for the benefit of democracy, but the line between free speech and hate speech or misinformation is becoming increasingly muddied, and attempts to change Twitter could easily lead to these issues spiraling out of control.”
In his talk with Anderson, Musk said that Twitter is “bound by the laws of the country it operates in, so obviously, there are some limitations on free speech in the US, and of course, Twitter would have to abide by those rules.” But he said it was “quite dangerous” to have “tweets be mysteriously promoted and demoted” and have a “black-box algorithm.”
So what next?
Twitter may hire bankers and advisers to help it review the deal, said Third Bridge technology, media, and telecom analyst, Scott Kessler. And other buyers could emerge. “It seems that if would-be strategic and financial buyers are interested in Twitter, they should probably engage now.”