Musk begins his Twitter ownership with firings, declares the ‘bird is freed’

  • Musk says ‘the bird is free’ after $44 billion deal
  • Musk fires Twitter CEO, CFO and chief policy officer
  • Some Twitter users are signaling their willingness to walk away
  • Survey shows employee concerns at work
  • EU warns: ‘This bird will fly by our rules’

Oct 28 (Reuters) – Elon Musk has taken ownership of Twitter Inc. (TWTR.N) with brutal efficiency, firing senior executives but providing little clarity on how he will achieve the ambitions he has set for the influential social media platform.

“The bird is released,” he tweeted after completing his $44 billion acquisition on Thursday, referencing Twitter’s bird logo in an apparent nod to his desire to see the company have fewer limits on the content that can be published.

The CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and the self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, however, also said he wanted to prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division.

Other goals include wanting to “defeat” spambots on Twitter and making the algorithms that determine how content is presented to its users publicly available.

Still, Musk did not give details on how he will achieve all of this and who will run the company. He said he planned to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s 7,500 employees to worry about their future. He also said on Thursday that he didn’t buy Twitter to make more money but “to try to help humanity, which I love.”

In an ongoing poll on messaging app Blind to find out if Twitter employees will be employed at the company in three months, less than 10% voted “yes”. Of the 266 participants, 38% answered “No” and more than 55% chose the “popcorn” option. Blind allows anonymous messaging of employees to voice their grievances where people can sign up with their company emails.

Musk has fired Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and chief legal and policy officer Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors about the number of fake accounts on the platform.

Agrawal and Segal were at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco when the deal was struck and were being escorted out, the sources added.

Musk, who also runs rocket company SpaceX, plans to become Twitter’s CEO after completing the acquisition and also plans to remove permanent user bans, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Twitter, Musk and executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘CHIEF TWIT’

Before closing the deal, Musk walked into Twitter headquarters on Wednesday with a big smile and a porcelain sink, then tweeting “let this sink in.” He changed his Twitter profile description to “Chief Twit”.

He also tried to allay employee fears about major layoffs coming and assured advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules wouldn’t hurt his appeal.

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said without consequences!” Musk said Thursday in an open letter to advertisers.

As news of the deal spread, some Twitter users were quick to signal their willingness to walk away.

“I’ll be happy to be gone in a heartbeat if Musk, well, acts like we all expect him to,” said one account user @mustlovedogsxo.

European regulators also reiterated past warnings that, under Musk’s leadership, Twitter must still abide by the region’s Digital Services Act, which imposes stiff fines on companies if they fail to police illegal content.

“In Europe the bird will fly by our European rules,” European industry chief Thierry Breton tweeted on Friday morning, posting in a personal response a short video of Breton and Musk after they met last May.

In an indication of the challenges ahead, Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, who was banned from Twitter last year for breaking its rules on hateful and abusive behavior, applauded Musk’s Instagram takeover and shared fan requests for his account to be restored.

Musk also said in May that he would reverse the ban on Donald Trump, who was removed from office after the attack on the US Capitol. The former US president said he would not return to the platform and instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social.

A Trump representative did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Musk said he sees Twitter as a base for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and carpooling.

But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “big tweeters” represent less than 10% of global monthly users, but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.

A SAGA

The road to completing the deal was full of twists and turns that cast doubt on whether it would happen at all. It all started on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake on Twitter, becoming the company’s largest shareholder.

The world’s richest person then agreed to join Twitter’s board, only to balk at the last minute and offer to buy the company instead for $54.20 per share, an offer Twitter thought was another one of Musk’s cannabis jokes.

Musk’s offer was real, and over a single weekend later in April, the two sides reached a deal at the suggested price. This happened without Musk performing due diligence on the company’s confidential information.

In the weeks that followed, Musk had second thoughts. He complained publicly about Twitter’s spam accounts, and his lawyers then accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the matter.

The acrimony led Musk to tell Twitter on July 8 that he was ending the deal. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk to force him to complete the acquisition.

At that time, the stock market had plunged due to fears of a possible recession. Twitter accused Musk of buyer’s remorse, arguing he wanted out of the deal because he thought he overpaid.

Most legal analysts said Twitter had the strongest case and would likely prevail in court.

On October 4, just as Musk was due to be removed by Twitter lawyers, he made another U-turn, offering to complete the deal as promised. He managed to do so, just a day before a deadline given by a judge to avoid going to trial.

Twitter shares ended trading Thursday up 0.3% at $53.86, just below the agreed price. The stock will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

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Reporting by Sheila Dang and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Miyoung Kim in Singapore; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Edwina Gibbs and Matt Scuffham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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