Twitter’s board has accepted Elon Musk’s offer to buy the influential social media network, bringing a swift end to weeks of uncertainty that began on April 4, when Musk announced he had become the company’s biggest shareholder.
The Tesla CEO will buy the social network for about $44 billion, taking it private by purchasing shares for $54.20 in cash.
"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," Musk said in a press release. "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." He later tweeted a screenshot of the statement with rocket ship and heart emojis.
The company announced that Musk had secured $46.5 billion to finance the acquisition and that it expects the deal to close in 2022.
Like most things Musk and Twitter, the saga around the company’s acquisition was marked by a signature cocktail of drama, memes, subtweeting, and toxic masculinity — including a Musk tweet poking fun at the size of Bill Gates’ tummy.
In late March this year, Musk aired a litany of complaints about Twitter on Twitter — questioning the company’s commitment to principles of free speech, the possibility of “de facto” bias in its algorithm, and the need for another such platform.
Predictably, his tweets set off a flutter of conversation at the time when Twitter was still in flux after the November 2021 departure of its founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey. As it turned out, Musk had secretly and controversially amassed a more than 5% stake at the time, at which point he was required to disclose his holdings to the Security and Exchange Commission but didn’t, according to a timeline of events published by Bloomberg. Musk’s delay, the Washington Post reported, allowed him to earn $156 million by letting him continue to acquire Twitter shares for cheap.
The first indication that he was even interested in buying Twitter came only on April 4, 10 days after the disclosure deadline, when he told the SEC that his stake stood at 9.5% — making him the company’s biggest shareholder. Twitter's press release notes that the $54.20 per share purchase price is a 38% premium over the company's stock price on April 1, days before Musk announced his stake.
After becoming Twitter's largest shareholder, Musk began asking his followers for suggestions on how to improve the company, while Twitter’s management played along. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, for instance, retweeted a Musk poll on whether Twitter should have an edit button.
Twitter invited Musk to join the company’s board of directors, in what looked like an attempt to mollify him, only for him to reject their offer. On April 14, Musk announced his intention to acquire Twitter outright and take it private. In an SEC filing, Musk said the company had “extraordinary potential” but that he had lost faith in the current management. Later that day, Musk said during a live interview at the TED conference that he wanted to buy Twitter for the “future of civilization.” At the same talk, he also described the SEC as “bastards” for bringing charges against him over a 2018 tweet where he said he was taking Tesla private.
Musk laid out his plans on securing funding for purchasing Twitter on April 20, at which point the board started seriously negotiating the sale of the company, according to the New York Times.
"The Twitter Board conducted a thoughtful and comprehensive process to assess Elon's proposal with a deliberate focus on value, certainty, and financing," said Bret Taylor, Twitter's board chair. "The proposed transaction will deliver a substantial cash premium, and we believe it is the best path forward for Twitter's stockholders."
Twitter users have responded to Musk’s acquisition in predictably polarized ways. While the billionaire’s fans are predictably thrilled that the service will now be owned by a tech bro who believes everyone should always be allowed to say whatever they want, others are concerned that his purchase signals the death knell for the company’s attempts to police the hate speech, trolling, and doxxing that has long plagued the service and has invariably been directed at its most vulnerable users. Women journalists, scientists, and politicians such as Elizabeth Warren have been on the receiving end of online abuse after crossing swords with Musk on Twitter.
During a press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to the news. "No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power large social media platforms have over our everyday lives," she said.
Prior to the final announcement of the deal, some US conservatives had expressed hope that a Twitter controlled by Musk would live up to his promises of promoting free speech above all else. Right-wing politicians have long complained that they have been censored by Big Tech, despite studies to the contrary. Twitter in particular has attracted their ire for permanently suspending the account of Donald Trump after the former president was accused of using the service to incite supporters to storm Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.
After the official announcement, NAACP President Derrick Johnson released a statement addressed to Musk: "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."
Even if Musk did reinstate Trump’s Twitter account, the former president might not come back.
“I probably wouldn’t have any interest” in returning, Trump told Sirius XM's Americano Media in an interview prior to all the Elon Musk excitement. "You know, Twitter has become very boring. They've gotten rid of a lot of their good voices ... a lot of their conservative voices."