Elon Musk completes Twitter takeover amid hate speech concerns

Shares delisted and top execs reportedly fired as world’s richest man closes deal to buy social media platform

The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has completed his $44bn acquisition of Twitter, amid warnings from politicians and campaigners that hate speech on the platform must be held in check.

The social media group confirmed the deal in a brief filing on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday morning, disclosing the deal had closed the day before. Shares in the company have been suspended and will delist on 8 November, capping a chaotic saga that began when the Tesla CEO first announced his plans to take the tech business private in April.

Musk marked the transaction with a post to his 110 million followers declaring the “bird is freed”, in a reference to the company’s corporate logo, before adding: “let the good times roll”.

the bird is freed

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2022

There has been speculation Musk will take on the role of chief executive at Twitter on an interim basis. Shortly after taking the helm, he reportedly ousted several senior figures, including the chief executive, Parag Agrawal; the chief financial officer, Ned Segal; and the head of legal policy, trust and safety, Vijaya Gadde.

Segal tweeted on Friday that he had “concluded 5 years @twitter”. On Friday Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of lastminute.com and a Twitter board member, paid tribute to Agrawal, Gadde and Segal, thanking them for “leading with incredible integrity and care”.

Working with @paraga @nedsegal @vijaya @edgett has been a career high. Thank you for leading with incredible integrity and care. I will get you to @luckyvoice one day :-)

— martha lane fox (@Marthalanefox) October 28, 2022

Twitter employees pushed past a scrum of press outside the company headquarters in San Francisco on Friday, declining to answer questions from reporters. The building was tightly secured amid vague reports Musk may be making another appearance on the premises. “We have had a very unique three days,” one unnamed security guard said.

Meanwhile, the mood inside the company was frantic, according to reports, with employees relying heavily on outside information as to what changes Musk would be making in the absence of internal communication.

News of the deal, after months of legal back-and-forth, brought immediate warnings that it must not lead to a surge in hate speech and disinformation on the platform, which has more than 230 million users. Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist”, has said he intends to bring banned users, including Donald Trump, back to the platform.

General Motors told CNBC it will pause advertising on the platform as it assesses the company’s new direction.

“We are engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership. As is normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising. Our customer care interactions on Twitter will continue,” the company said in an emailed statement to CNBC.

Trump stated he is ‘very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands’ after Elon Musk took over Twitter.
Donald Trump stated he was ‘very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands’ after Elon Musk took over Twitter. Photograph: Philip Pacheco/AFP/Getty Images

GM’s decision comes days after Musk attempted to play down concerns over harmful content. In a message to Twitter’s advertising clients, he said turning the site into a “hellscape” would not work and tweeted that the platform must be “warm and welcoming to all”.

Trump responded to Musk’s takeover on his own platform, Truth Social, on Friday, stating he is “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands”. “Twitter must now work hard to rid itself of all the bots and fake accounts that have hurt it so badly,” he wrote. “I LOVE TRUTH!”

Musk seemed to allude to the question of whether Trump would return to the platform in a Tweet on Friday, stating that the platform would be forming “a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” to address such issues. “No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes,” he wrote.

He later sowed confusion by tweeting that “anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail”, then added, “To be super clear, we have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies.”

Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, responded to the freed bird post with a tweet warning that the bird “will fly by our rules” – in a reference to the EU’s Digital Services Act, which requires online platforms to tackle illegal content such as hate speech.

One internet safety campaigner said on Friday that the deal could “unravel” Twitter’s work on improving the platform, after reports that Gadde had been fired.

Seyi Akiwowo, the head of Glitch, a UK-based charity that campaigns against online abuse, said Gadde’s removal was a blow. She tweeted: “I am very concerned that the progress Twitter has finally made on safety over the last 6 years will unravel in the next few weeks.”

Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco on Friday.
Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco on Friday. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

In the US, the first amendment campaign group Pen America said the midterm elections on 8 November would be a “pivotal” moment for the platform, showing whether Musk has grasped the intricacies of its operations.

“With the election two weeks out a pivotal indicator will be whether purveyors of disinformation are given free rein to mislead people over Twitter about when, where and how to vote,” said Suzanne Nossel, the organisation’s chief executive.

However, Musk’s very first public statement on Friday morning was to promise the pseudonymous Maga influencer “Catturd” that he would be “digging in” to why the user’s account is “shadowbanned” – a reference to it not showing up in search results. With 850,000 followers, the account is one of the more prominent on the US right.

I will be digging in more today

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2022

Musk, who is worth $212bn, has committed to financing most of the transaction himself, although he has received commitments worth more than $7bn from investors including Larry Ellison, founder of the Oracle software group, and the cryptocurrency platform Binance. The deal will also be backed by a $13bn debt package led by a consortium of Wall Street banks.

Immediate termination of the three Twitter executives’ employment could cost the company more than $120m. Under “golden parachute” clauses Agrawal, Segal and Gadde would all qualify for lucrative payouts to cover previous share awards, plus a year’s salary and some insurance benefits. Agrawal would be entitled to total payments of $57.4m, and Segal and Gadde $44.5m and $20m respectively.

They also hold shares worth $8.3m, $22m and $34.8m respectively. Those shares are likely to be bought by Musk during the takeover. The closure of the deal will also trigger payments for Twitter’s US investment bankers that were conditional on completion of the takeover. JP Morgan Chase will receive $48m and Goldman Sachs $65m.

Completion of the deal brings to a close a takeover that became mired in corporate and legal drama soon after it was announced in April. Within weeks the deal, which Musk had signed on 25 April, began to founder as its prospective owner raised concerns about the number of vexatious spam accounts on the platform.

This led the Tesla CEO to announce in July that he was walking away from the transaction.

Twitter then sued Musk in the US state of Delaware, where the company is incorporated, to demand that he close the deal. After a surprise change of mind by Musk as a court date approached, a Delaware judge gave both sides until 5pm on 28 October to close the deal.

Johana Bhuiyan contributed to this report.


Dan Milmo, Jasper Jolly, Alex Hern in London and Kari Paul in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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