elon musk

The Whirlwind First Week of Twitter’s Musk Era

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

If the first five days were any indication, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is going to be a doozy. On Monday, the company approved Musk’s deal to acquire it for $44 billion, sending many users into a tailspin over how the app may change to fit his self-styled “free-speech absolutism.” The richest man in the world, as is his nature, responded by trolling most everyone and complaining about the left. With the saga only beginning, a look back at the first five days of Musk could reveal how the 15th-most-popular social-media network could gravitate around its new star, whether or not he upholds his stated goal:

Monday: Musk gets Twitter to put down the poison pill

It didn’t seem like it would go down. Earlier this month, the billionaire offered to “buy 100 percent of Twitter for $54.20 per share in cash” so it might “thrive” as a private company. In response, Twitter’s board drew up a limited-duration shareholder-rights plan, better known as a “poison pill,” allowing shareholders to purchase more shares at a discount if anyone gained more than 15 percent of Twitter’s outstanding stock. But by Monday, the poison pill was flushed. As speculators guessed how the man who built a weed joke into the biggest deal of his life would responsibly run the company, Musk tweeted out a line from Robert Frost:

Many employees weren’t immediately thrilled by the prospect of Musk owning Twitter. Some were concerned about how going private would affect their stock options, which represent a good chunk of employees’ total compensation; others were worried about Musk’s fitness for the task and if his other business interests could influence the company’s policies.

At an all-hands meeting, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal was unable to provide much detail aside from saying there would be no immediate layoffs. “Once the deal closes, we don’t know what direction this company will go in,” he said.

But one thing was clear — if you’re willing to believe another billionaire who’s fond of posting. Less than two hours after the impending sale was announced, Donald Trump said he would not return if his ban were rescinded, preferring to stay on his own social network, Truth Social, which he doesn’t really use. Other conservatives celebrated the new management. “We’re back,” tweeted Tucker Carlson, who regained access to his account by deleting a tweet in which he posted a screenshot of a Babylon Bee article calling Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, who is transgender, its “man of the year.”

Tuesday: He could be on the hook for a lot of money

So it turns out that Musk needed $25.5 billion in loans from Morgan Stanley to propel the acquisition — including $12.5 billion in loans that use the billionaire’s own stock in Tesla as collateral. This could create an interesting problem for Musk, as New York’s Kevin Dugan explains: With as much as $1 billion in interest per year coming his way, “Musk is going to have to pay out — and that money is going to have to come from somewhere. Last year, Twitter made more than $5 billion in revenue, the most ever, with 89 percent of that coming from ad sales. But it still ended up losing $221 million.” If Musk is somehow unable to pay the interest, it’s even possible that Morgan Stanley could seize the Tesla stock he put up as collateral and sell it off.

On Twitter itself, Musk wasn’t too concerned with this financial situation, which could stop him from running wild with the moderation policies at a company that never really figured out how to make money. Instead, he tweeted about his haters:

Wednesday: The return of the censor

Unfortunately for Musk, becoming the owner of Twitter doesn’t mean he can tweet whatever he wants. On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York rejected Musk’s request to kill a settlement agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he said limited his free speech. The settlement in question was reached in 2018 after the SEC charged Musk with securities fraud for tweeting about potentially taking Tesla private at $420 a share; it requires him to clear his tweets with a company lawyer if they contain material information about his electric-car company.

Other potential problems emerged after Musk started trolling. He began by tweeting that Truth Social is currently beating out Twitter on Apple’s app store, adding that it “only exists because Twitter censored free speech.” Ever the pun lover, he said it “should be called Trumpet instead!” From there, he went in:

With the above tweet, it’s possible Musk may have run afoul of the deal’s terms, which state that he cannot “disparage the company or any of its representatives” while the sale is going through. The woman in the above meme is Twitter’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, whom Musk accused of perpetuating what he sees as liberal bias at the company. In response, former CEO Dick Costolo pushed back:

Thursday: The trolling continues

It’s in Musk’s nature to annoy his adversaries. On Thursday, he reached out for attention with a stick-figure chart showing his perception of how the political divide has become a chasm:

Musk — who appears to believe the conservative movement in America hasn’t sprinted to the right over the past four election cycles — explained his approach a few hours later. “For Twitter to deserve public trust,” he tweeted, “it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally.” So far, however, he has done little to frustrate those on his right flank.

Friday: Out with the old company’s stock

One of the biggest questions coming out of the deal involved how Musk planned to come up with the $21 billion in funding he has personally guaranteed. By the end of the week, there was some clarity: Musk sold $8.4 billion of Tesla stock in the days after the Twitter purchase, getting rid of 9.6 million shares for prices ranging between $820 and $1,000 per share. He is left with around 16 percent of the company and says he has no more sales planned, which means he will have to come up with the remaining $12.5 billion elsewhere.

The Whirlwind First Week of Twitter’s Musk Era