SpaceX founder Elon Musk reacts at a post-launch news conference after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifted off on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., March 2, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters
The Twitter board has agreed to a $44 billion buyout offer from billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Beyond that, little is known about what the world’s richest person plans to do with his preferred social media platform.
Under the terms of the deal, Musk is paying $54.20 per share in cash for Twitter. The announcement ended a weekslong saga Musk kicked off when he bid to buy the company at that price, which he called his “best and final offer.”
In Monday’s statement, Twitter said Musk is providing about $21 billion and has secured $25.5 billion of debt and “margin loan financing,” adding “there are no financing conditions to the closing of the transaction.”
So, Musk is taking over. But just about every other key question regarding the future of the popular social media platform remains unanswered. Users, employees, investors and politicians are eagerly waiting to hear more on the following topics:
One of the biggest questions facing Twitter is who Musk will appoint as the new CEO.
Current CEO Parag Agrawal has led the company for just five months after succeeding co-founder Jack Dorsey. Agrawal was quickly forced to deal with an aggressive Musk, who snapped up about 9% of the stock and briefly agreed to join the board.
Then Musk scrapped that agreement and chose instead to go after the whole company, while Agrawal warned of “distractions ahead.”
He got his distraction on Monday, and now it seems unlikely that the pair will forge a future together. “Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world,” Agrawal said in his lone comment in the company statement. “Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important.”
The board of directors, led by Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, adopted a “poison pill” to try and fend off a potential hostile takeover from Musk. That came after Musk reneged on his agreement to join the board.
Musk gets his chance to wipe the slate clean, and the list of potential candidates to help him in the journey is long. He and Dorsey have appeared chummy of late. Could he choose to join forces with his fellow tech billionaire founder?
Twitter said the company is being acquired by “an entity wholly owned by Elon Musk.” That says nothing about how much control the mega-billionaire will exert.
Musk is currently CEO of Tesla, which has a market cap of $1 trillion, and SpaceX, which is valued in the private market at $100 billion. He’s also got his start-ups Neuralink and The Boring Company.
Will he take the Jeff Bezos approach with the Washington Post and allow an independent management team to run the operations? Or will be a hands-on owner? The answer will go a long way to knowing what to expect from content moderation and whether the many high-profile people who have been kicked off the site will soon return.
Musk has attempted to crowdsource opinions on Twitter features, asking his 83 million-plus followers to weigh in on whether they want certain changes like an edit button. Will he make decisions based on what his followers want?
Here’s what he said in the release:
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
What does Musk mean by free speech? In a tweet on Monday, he wrote, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
Will he let everyone stay? Content moderation is important in keeping a social network from becoming a dumpster fire. Free speech for a private corporation doesn’t have to mean what it does in the First Amendment.
Former President Donald Trump was banned by Twitter last year for violating its rules — a move that drew ire from Trump and many conservative politicians. Musk has made clear he doesn’t like what he views as the company’s policies of censorship. So will Trump come back? Will users leave as a result? Will open sourcing the algorithm help us understand who comes, who goes and why?
Trump told CNBC on Monday he wouldn’t return to Twitter even if Musk reversed the former president’s ban, saying that he’ll be on his own service, Truth Social, “within a week.”
“We did a lot for Twitter when I was in the White House.” Trump said. “I was disappointed by the way I was treated by Twitter. I won’t be going back on Twitter.”
By taking the company private, Musk has to figure out a whole new structure for employee pay. Existing stock grants and rewards are no longer meaningful. Will they be replaced with equity in the new version of Twitter, giving employees potential upside should the company go public a second time?
The tech industry is dealing with a tightening and highly competitive market for talent. Employers are under more pressure than ever to retain what they’ve got. Under these circumstances, why would workers stay at Twitter and why would they go there from somewhere else?
And who does Musk keep? If he removes content-moderation practices, a lot of employees are suddenly deemed irrelevant. Does the Musk army become Twitter’s workforce?
If you’re betting on Tesla at $1 trillion, you’re likely betting on Musk to continue working his magic. He has plenty of distractions already. Is this latest one too big for some investors to stomach? Tesla shares fell slightly on Monday and are down 2.3% since Musk’s bid on April 14. But the Nasdaq Composite has fallen further.