Musk buys Twitter for $44B, plans to take it private

Tom Krisher and Matt O'Brien
The Associated Press

Elon Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion on Monday, promising a more lenient touch to policing content on the social media platform where he — the world’s richest person — promotes his interests, attacks critics and opines on a wide range of issues to more than 83 million followers.

The outspoken Tesla CEO has said he wanted to own and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.

Musk said in a joint statement with Twitter that he wants to make the service “better than ever” with new features, such as getting rid of automated “spam” accounts and making its algorithms open to the public to increase trust.

“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,” the 50-year-old Musk said, adding hearts, stars and rocket emojis in a tweet that highlighted the statement.

Concerns: The more hands-off approach to content moderation that Musk envisions has many users concerned that the platform will become more of a haven for disinformation, hate speech and bullying, something it has worked hard in recent years to mitigate. Wall Street analysts said if he goes too far, it could also alienate advertisers.

The deal was cemented roughly two weeks after the billionaire first revealed a 9% stake in the platform. Musk said last week that he had lined up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter, putting pressure on the company’s board to negotiate a deal.

Twitter said the transaction was unanimously approved by its board of directors and is expected to close in 2022, pending regulatory sign-off and the approval of shareholders.

Shares of Twitter Inc. rose more than 5% Monday to $51.70 per share. On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. While the stock is up sharply since Musk made his offer, it is well below the high of $77 per share it reached in February 2021.

Musk has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.

In recent weeks, he has voiced a number of proposed changes for the company, from relaxing its content restrictions – such as the rules that suspended former President Don­ald Trump’s account – to ridding the platform of fake and automated accounts, and shifting away from its advertising-based revenue model. Musk believes he can increase revenue through subscriptions that give paying customers a better experience, perhaps even an ad-free version of Twitter.

As Twitter’s main customers, advertisers have also been a voice in pushing for stronger content rules that Musk has criticized. Asked during a recent TED talk if there are any limits to his notion of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter or any forum is “obviously bound by the laws of the country that 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.”

Beyond that, though, he said he’d be “very reluctant” to delete things and in general be cautious about permanently banning users who violate the company’s rules.

It won’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we want it to really have the perception and reality that speech is as free as reasonably possible.”

After the deal was announced, the NAACP released a statement that urged Musk not to allow former President Trump back onto the platform.

“Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” the civil rights organization said. “Do not allow 45 to return to the platform. Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy.”

During his candidacy and presidency, Trump used Twitter as a powerful megaphone that enabled him to speak to the public directly, often using incendiary and divisive language on hot-button issues. He was permanently banned from the service in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

Efforts to “deregulate” Twitter could thwart the company’s current commitment to making the platform as safe as possible for all users, said Brooke Erin Duffy, professor of communication at Cornell University and an expert on social media. ”

“Marginalized communities of users are especially vulnerable to the forms of hate and harassment that so often circulate in unregulated online spaces,” she said.

Forrester Research director Mike Proulx said that if Musk decides to loosen content moderation policies, he puts Twitter ad dollars at risk. “Brands are becoming more conscious of their adjacency to risky content or disinformation, so they may take their dollars to other channels with greater safety measures in place,” he said.

Some users said Monday that they were planning to quit the platform if Musk took it over. To which he responded on Twitter: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”