People Matters PM April 2022

Page 12

newsmaker of the month

Elon Musk Vs. Twitter

q u i c k

r e a d s

By Jerry Moses

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he Musk-Twitter saga has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for the news media. It's also a skirmish that can have long lasting consequences for the future of Twitter – which has become a thriving public space of the internet – for individuals, governments, and organisations alike. Here's the context and timeline. On March 25th 2021, a Tweet poll posted to Elon Musk's Twitter page asked users, "Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle? 70% of them said No. On March 26th, Musk asked users: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done? Is a new platform needed?” Among the suggestions were tweets suggesting Musk could buy Twitter instead of starting a new platform. And on April 4th, Twitter disclosed that he had in fact done that, taking a 9.2% stake

| April 2022

in the platform and making himself its biggest shareholder. Twitter’s shares shot up by 27% as a result. On April 5th, Musk asked his followers, "Do you want an edit button?" – a long-requested feature on Twitter. On the same day, Twitter's CEO Parag Agarwal announced that the company is appointing Musk to the Board, citing conversations over the past few weeks. He noted that "(Musk) is both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need on, and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the longterm." Twitter employees protested, afraid that Musk would negatively affect the company’s ability to moderate the content on its platform. But their alarm was unfounded. On April 11th, the day when Musk’s appointment would have become effective, Agarwal announced that Musk had decided not to join the Board. The media erupted in a frenzy of speculation that Musk would try a hostile takeover instead. Sure enough, on April 14th, Musk announced that he had offered to buy Twitter in a filing to the Securities and Exchanges Commission. He noted, "since making my investment, I now realise the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed into a private company.”

His offer was highly attractive, to buy shares at a 54% premium over the day he began investing. It amounted to $54.20 per share in cash. "Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it," he said. However, not everyone was convinced of Musk's intentions. Billionaire investor Mark Cuban speculated whether this was a way to artificially inflate the share price before dumping his stake. Still others challenged Musk's understanding and commitment to the cause of free speech around the globe. Others noted whether he was responding to presumed censorship rooted in left-wing politics. Other Twitter users noted that Musk's offer was the best financial offer the company had ever received, and that it was a no-brainer not to take it. As for Twitter, its Board and leadership do not look like they're interested in Musk's offer. On 15th April, which happened to be Good Friday, the company introduced a poison pill – a financial device to dilute the value of the hostile buyer’s stake, that companies have been wielding against unwelcome suitors for decades. As a business leader, this is not the first time Elon Musk has openly expressed his views on Twitter – or taken unconventional routes to disrupt the status quo. But whether he will succeed in his efforts and whether Twitter as an entity survives remains to be seen.