court appearances

There Is Nothing Left to Stop Elon Musk From Owning Twitter

Photo: Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

The convergence of Elon Musk and Twitter has been like an experiment in high-energy physics that distorts time and even reality itself. It’s been six months since Elon Musk revealed he bought about a tenth of Twitter and then announced a deal to purchase the whole company for $54.20 a share; five since he started to chafe about the terms of the deal, wondering privately to a banker if he could use “World War III” to get out of it, then declaring the deal “on hold”; four since he started to make an issue about the number of bots on the site; three since he tried to meme himself out of the deal, got sued, and then started losing in court; two since he got scooped on his countersuit by his opposition, found new life after a shock whistleblower came forward, and then got deflated once again after the judge said his legal strategy was “absurdly broad”; one since his friends’ embarrassing text messages were made public; and just a few weeks since he capitulated entirely, agreed to stop trying to get out of buying the company for way more than it would otherwise be worth, and put up the money by October 28.

Now, three days prior to that deadline, what looms on the event horizon? Well, it looks like it’s actually going to happen. Over the last few weeks, there’s been speculation that the deal would still fall apart. Maybe there would be a national security reason to block it, or the banks would revolt, or Musk would even fake his own death. It’s debatable whether Musk is really as much of a wild card as he wants people to think he is — but because there is that aura of unpredictability around him, many implausible scenarios like these were taken seriously. All have fizzled. On Tuesday, the White House came out and said there would be no national security review of the deal. He’s also told his bankers and co-investors to pony up the money. While he hasn’t yet filed any paperwork to show that he’s sold more of his Tesla shares to fund the deal, he could be getting financing through other means, or he might just not care about filing the right forms at the right time — something he’s been known for.

If it feels surreal to you, as if this suspense about Musk taking over Twitter would go on forever, you’re not alone. “Other than the apprehension, most of the drama is now behind us,” says Eric Talley, a corporate law professor at Columbia Law School who has been closely following the acquisition. “This case has been a gaslighting force for a lot of people. There are a lot of things that just ordinarily would never happen that have happened in this case.” From here on out — assuming it all occurs the way these things usually do — the details are procedural, if not unremarkable: Musk will file a letter to the judge in Delaware Chancery Court saying he has the money and disclosing the final amount from his co-investors, then Twitter’s shareholders will all get $54.20 for every share they own — not bad, considering that bigger rivals have all had a terrible year, with Meta down 60 percent, and Snap down 80 percent, since January 3. It might take a few days for that money to change hands, Talley told me. Still, it doesn’t look like there’s anything standing in the way of Musk being the next CEO by Halloween.

Of course, all of this could have been avoided. From the first time that Musk raised his problem with bots, legal experts have been extremely skeptical that it was an argument that would prevail in Delaware Chancery Court, which has an especially no-nonsense reputation and didn’t take too kindly to Musk’s chaotic strategy. The price tag for all the extraneous litigation fees, not to mention the unsellable debt that’s actually making this deal possible, is likely in the hundreds of millions. And for what? Musk is ending up exactly where he was in April.

Except now it’s Twitter that seems be in worse shape. According to Reuters, an internal Twitter study is flashing a warning sign that its heaviest users are abandoning the platform. Since the start of the pandemic there have been fewer active users logging in to read about the news, or even the Kardashians. Instead, the heaviest users are coming to Twitter to read about crypto and porn — the kind of topics that advertisers typically shy away from. This won’t exactly be a surprise to Musk, since he’s spent so much time complaining about how spammy Twitter is. But now that he’s paying a price six months out of date, and will have to pay another $850 million a year in interest to the banks, it’s up to him to figure out how to make money off all scams and naked pictures. If there’s anyone who can do that, it’s probably Musk.

There Is Nothing Left to Stop Elon Musk From Owning Twitter