TECHNOLOGY mogul Elon Musk’s bid to buy the social media platform, Twitter, for just about US$44 billion appears to be falling apart. At least, that’s what he hopes, by all indications. But the company’s leadership isn’t allowing him to ease out of the arrangement without a fight.
Musk had put a number of conditions on the purchase, some of which he tweeted himself. Earlier in May, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX had said: “If Twitter acquisition completes, company will be super focused on hardcore software engineering, design, infosec & server hardware.”
But before that, Business Insider speculated about some of the changes Musk would make to the platform. Not much of it was speculation, as Musk himself had made pronouncements continuously throughout the period from the announcement of his potential acquisition of Twitter to now.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated… I also want 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,” Business Insider quoted Musk as saying in April.
On the platform itself, some believed that Musk would pave the way for the return of former US President Donald Trump to Twitter after Trump’s account was “permanently suspended” by the platform following the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, for which a special committee of the United States Congress is still hearing testimonies now.
Musk had also come out against the platform for what he felt were a large number of “bots” or fake accounts which were controlled by computer programmes aimed at stirring up trouble on the platform. The success of Musk’s buyout of Twitter, for him, hinged on the company’s ability to prove him wrong. The cost, however, was big.
A request was made for Twitter to hand over large amounts of data generated from its more than 290 million users. As Clare Duffy of CNN Business put it in a June opinion piece: “Twitter apparently plans to provide Musk with its “firehose” of data about tweets on the platform, according to recent reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times.
“The Twitter firehose is the real-time stream of the millions of public tweets posted on the platform daily and information on the accounts behind them, although it does not contain private information such as the IP address from which the tweet was posted.
Duffy’s analysis went a bit deeper, as any data-conscious and privacy-conscious person would, noting: “The seemingly unprecedented nature of sharing such data with Musk — an individual who doesn’t work for the company, isn’t a researcher and doesn’t belong to the handful of companies who pay to access the data — could create a number of unknowns, from competitive risks to privacy concerns, some industry watchers note. And that’s not to mention Musk’s history of inflammatory and sometimes erratic behaviour online and offline.”
Now that Musk wants out, citing the bots issue as grounds, Twitter could possibly activate a clause of the initial agreement with Musk which could force him to pay US$1 Billion for terminating the deal, a clause that is bound on both parties.
As it stands now, the matter is before a special court in Delaware—the Delaware Court of Chancery, a court of equity that deals largely with determining disputes of corporations in that state. Twitter was incorporated in Delaware in 2007 before making it big. The court has opted to hear the matter expeditiously. While Musk had asked for a two-week trial in February 2023, the court has instead ruled to have a five-day trial in October.
There’s speculation that Musk just thinks the US$44 billion price tag for buying Twitter is overpriced, but considering the level of cooperation given by Twitter’s board already, to ensure the deal goes through, it wouldn’t be so easy to back out now. A number of the company’s senior executives are resigning amidst the confusion, and legal and tech experts are keeping a close eye on this case because it feels very much like uncharted territory.