the money game

Elon Musk Is Trying To Meme Himself Out Of Buying Twitter

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Stephen Lovekin/BEI/Shutterstock

After trying to pull out of his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, Elon Musk is appealing to his millions of followers by attempting to meme his way out of the deal. Twitter, however, is planning on enforcing the deal through a different public forum: the Delaware Chancery Court, where Musk’s smirk and copy-and-paste macros aren’t exactly the stuff of winning arguments.

Late Sunday and early Monday morning, Musk took to the app he is no longer trying to buy to post some pictures that, in their own way, preview his side of the coming legal battle. The first is more related to the argument he made via a lawyer’s letter on Friday: that Twitter is misrepresenting the amount of bots that are on the platform, and that impacts the amount of money they can make off ads, and since Twitter is not going to give him more information that they may or may not have, he is within his rights to terminate the deal. (This is all arguable. Musk presented no evidence in his letter, and experts have said that it’s unlikely that these arguments will hold sway before a judge. Twitter’s chairman Bret Taylor also said, essentially, see you in court.) So the meme is of him laughing over making the company prove its terminology for counting bots — which, yeah, is probably something that Twitter will have to do.

The second meme I’ll come to later, because the Twitter board’s response has been very different. Rather than use their platform to try to build up clout, the company reportedly hired the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Twitter is likely to sue Musk some time this week, as early as today, in order to force him to go through with the $44 billion deal. One of the lawyers who works for that law firm is Leo E. Strine, a living giant in corporate law. Strine is the former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court who has taught corporate law at Harvard and University of Pennsylvania. (He once was a corporate litigator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the law firm that’s representing Musk here). He’s also apparently been unsympathetic to Musk’s attempts to get out of buying Twitter, as was made public in a post by short seller Nathan Anderson, who’s publicly bet against the Twitter deal going through.

Twitter hasn’t made its argument public yet, but it’s not like it’s that much of a mystery: Twitter and Musk had an agreement with very few outs, and bots weren’t one of them, so the board is probably going to attempt to force Musk to spend $44 billion.

This brings us back to the second meme that Musk posted. It’s a picture of Chuck Norris looking smug before a chess board where he only has a white pawn, facing against an opponent who has all the pieces, to which Musk also responded “Chuckmate.”

Musk’s saying-it-without-saying-it approach here doesn’t exactly require a vivid imagination to understand what he’s trying to get at, but the general upshot is that the billionaire is like the guy who was famous 30 years ago for doing Kung Fu on TV, and will win the game somehow. And look, maybe it’s not really worth the brain energy here, but this second meme may actually be the more revealing one: Musk clearly believes that he’s playing a different game than his opponent, and he knows something that the Twitter board doesn’t, and this is why he’s confident that he will prevail. (At the very least, this is the image he’s trying to project). And for what it’s worth, Musk is very good at making perception into reality, something that Twitter has been a particularly effective service for — especially for those who can create and manage an army of bots (human or otherwise) to, say, astroturf a political issue or harass someone for their opinions.

But the Delaware courts are much closer to the game of chess, where there are prescribed rules and strategies. If Musk really sees himself in that picture, he might want to take a second look — because he’s already lost his king.

Elon Musk Is Trying To Meme Himself Out Of Buying Twitter