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Elon Musk, in his first public appearance since his $43 billion bid to buy Twitter became public, said that he made the offer because “Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it is just really important that people have the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”
Musk made the comments at TED 2022: A New Era, which was being held in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was also live-streamed.
Musk added that he hopes to “open source the algorithm” to try and improve trust in the platform.
“This is not a way to make money, my strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization, I don’t care about the economics at all,” Musk said, adding in a quip that “I’m not actually sure I will be able to acquire it.”
He added that he believed he would be able to make the deal, comparing his offer to some other media and tech companies, which are already controlled by individuals or families like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg who owns “Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp, and [has] a shared ownership structure that will have Mark Zuckerberg the 14th still owning those entities,” Musk said.
The takeover bid was revealed early Thursday morning in a securities filing, which included text messages that Musk had sent to Twitter’s board chair Bret Taylor. “After the past several days of thinking this over, I have decided I want to acquire the company and take it private,” Musk texted Taylor. “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”
Musk has been acquiring his stake since late January but only disclosed it earlier in April. Twitter responded by offering him a board seat, though Musk would go on to decline the seat in a conversation with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal.
In the TED conversation Thursday, Musk framed his acquisition offer in grand terms, suggesting that the move was vital to a “healthy democracy” like the U.S.
He said Twitter should comply with the laws of the country, but go no further. “If in doubt, let the speech, let it exist,” he said. “If someone you don’t like is allowed to say something you don’t like, it’s damn annoying. [But] when someone you don’t like says something you don’t like, that is a function of a healthy free speech situation.”
He also explained that it was important for people to be able to see details about the algorithm, and any changes being made.
“I won’t personally be in there editing tweets, but you would know if something was done,” he said.
The SpaceX and Tesla CEO, who is the world’s richest person with a net worth of over $270 billion, has been one of Twitter’s most active and high-profile users for years. Most notably, he faced the wrath of the SEC when he tweeted in 2018 that he had secured funding to take Tesla private for $420 per share. He would end up paying a fine and agreeing to have a lawyer review his tweets about Tesla before he sent them, though it isn’t clear whether he is following that guidance.
It’s also not clear how serious Musk’s offer is. Twitter’s stock has failed to come close to the $54.20 per share that Musk offered since it began trading Thursday, suggesting that investors don’t view it as likely to succeed.
“The current offer is likely too low for TWTR’s shareholders/Board to approve the deal at essentially the midpoint of 1-year trading range,” Cowen analyst John Blackledge wrote Thursday. “We also do not view internet and/or media strategic players coming to the table at this point, as a deal with the large Digital ad platforms [like Google, Facebook, or Amazon] would likely not pass regulatory scrutiny.”
Musk said Thursday that “there is” a “Plan B” if Twitter’s board rejects his offer.
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