Elon Musk’s Twitter journey | From asking “how much’ Twitter costs in 2017 to musings on almost everything 

Before clinching a $44 billion deal with Twitter, Elon Musk engaged with followers on the platform in a host of distinct, often amusing ways

April 27, 2022 03:10 pm | Updated 07:18 pm IST

Elon Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter for about $44 billion.

Elon Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter for about $44 billion. | Photo Credit: AP

After buying a 9.4% stake to become the largest shareholder in Twitter Inc. on April 4, Elon Musk sparked speculations over whether the world’s richest man and CEO of Tesla would be buying Twitter. Then on Monday, April 25, after adopting the ‘poison pill’ mechanism to shield from Mr. Musk’s $43-billion takeover bid and, later, coming under pressure from its shareholders to seek a deal, Twitter eventually accepted to be sold at $44 billion dollars.

Read: Explained | ‘Poison pill’ and other corporate defence mechanisms to prevent hostile takeovers

These couple of weeks of negotiations, however, were by no means his only engagement with or on Twitter. After opening an account in 2009, the Tesla CEO has used the social media platform in varied ways from expressing his opinions, and paying a $40m fine for a ‘joke’ tweet, to often sending Wall Street and cryptocurrency markets into a tizzy.

On April 16 this year, Mr. Musk went back to comment on a 2017 tweet of his. He had written in a post five years ago: “I love Twitter”, which was followed by a comment from a user asking Mr. Musk to buy the company. “How much is it?” the billionaire had replied asking.

“Some people use their hair to express themselves, I use Twitter,” Mr. Musk had written in a tweet in 2019, and has been using the platform to express his views on almost everything, with amusing proposals such as nuking planet Mars or challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin to ‘single combat’, with the stake being Ukraine.

A penchant for Twitter polls

Over the years, Mr. Musk has often used Twitter’s polling feature, asking his followers in a fairly informal fashion, to vote on questions having broad implications. Of late, he had been asking users their opinion on what seemed like possible changes he would make to Twitter after taking over.

After acquiring nearly 73.5 million Twitter shares in early April, the billionaire asked users on Twitter whether there should be an ‘edit button’ for tweets. This was followed by Twitter CEO Parag Aggarwal cautioning users to “vote carefully’ as the poll would have “important” consequences.

Mr. Musk also kicked up a storm on how ‘free speech’ does or does not exist on Twitter, and how things would be different once he came on board. On March 25, he asked users in a poll: “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?”

Over two lakh people voted on the poll, with 70% saying the social media platform did not stick to the principles of free speech. A day later, Mr. Muskasked what was to be done, given that the platform serving as the “de facto public town square” was “failing to adhere to free speech principles”, fundamentally “undermining” democracy.

Mr. Musk even wrote in a tweet that he is a “free speech absolutist” stating that some governments had asked his satellite internet access company Starlink to block Russian news sources amid the ongoing Ukraine conflict, which the entrepreneur said he would not do unless “at gunpoint”. His views have raised worries among observes about the implications of his Twitter takeover.

Some of the other polls Mr. Musk recently conducted in his quest to make Twitter “better than ever”, asked users to vote on whether the platform needed an “edit button” for tweets, and an “open-source algorithm” giving developers more access to Twitter’s code and allowing users to know how and why Twitter engaged in policing content.

In November last year, Mr. Musk, in a bid to avoid speculation that he had been benefitting from avoiding taxation on his stocks, had asked millions of his followers whether he should sell 10% of his stock in Tesla, adding that he would abide by the results.

More than half of the 35 lakh people who participated in the poll supported his proposal to offload 10% of his stocks in Tesla, sending the shares falling.

Incidentally, a day before the poll, Mr. Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk, who is also on Tesla’s board, had sold $108m of his shares. This poll landed Musk in trouble with the United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which opened an investigation into the Musk brothers on whether they had engaged in insider trading practices. This was only one of the many times Mr. Musk had ruffled the SEC’s feathers.

On Cryptocurrency

The entrepreneur has had a love-hate relationship with cryptocurrency, and has sent crypto markets rallying or slumping with his changing opinions.

In late January last year, just by adding the ‘#Bitcoin’ to his Twitter handle bio, Mr. Musk drove up the price of the biggest cryptocurrency by 20%.

Two weeks after that, Tesla announced that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, which made the crypto asset’s price spike by 17% to a then-record high of over $44,000 each. A month later, Mr. Musk tweeted that customers would be able to buy Tesla’s cars using Bitcoin.

A couple of months later, however, Mr. Musk made his U-turn on Bitcoin, flagging the “insane” energy consumption for Bitcoin mining (the process of verifying crypto transactions) as not being in line with Tesla's clean energy motto. The Tesla CEO tweeted that his company would no longer be accepting Bitcoin payments for vehicle sales. This announcement on Twitter negatively affected Bitcoin prices, making them fall by 10%.

Tesla then sold 10% of its Bitcoin holdings, with Mr. Musk tweeting that he would allow his company’s Bitcoin transactions to resume if there was a confirmation that the currency’s miners were using 50% clean energy.

With his Twitter takeover, Mr. Musk sent another cryptocurrency rallying due to his remarks on it over time. Inexpensive Dogecoin, which is Bitcoin’s parody crypto-asset based on an online meme, rose by 35% between April 25 and 26, entering the top ten valued cryptocurrencies. It has been gaining more legitimacy and popularity after Mr. Musk’s support for it on Twitter.

From calling it his favourite cryptocurrency in a 2019 tweet to making Tesla merchandise buyable with Dogecoin, Mr. Musk has been causing dogecoin prices to sore over time. Earlier in April, the billionaire even proposed to make Dogecoin acceptable as payment for buying Twitter lite, the platform's premium service.

Landing Tesla in trouble with the SEC

Mr. Musk and Tesla had to pay $20 million each in fines to the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission over a 2018 tweet intended as a ‘joke’, in which he had confirmed securing the funds to make Tesla a private company at $420 per share (the number is a reference to Marijuana consumption). After being fined, a user had asked if paying all that money was worth a joke, Mr. Musk had replied by tweeting “worth it”.

After this episode, the SEC had in 2018 required Mr. Musk to have a legal expert look at his tweets about Tesla and ensure they did not induce unprecedented stock market movements. Despite this, the CEO tweeted in 2020 that the value of Tesla’s stock was “too high” in his opinion, which led to $14 billion of Tesla’s market value being wiped off.

A federal U.S. judge ruled this month that Mr. Musk’s 2018 tweets were “false and misleading”, and that he had not acquired the said funding.

Controversial views on COVID

Mr. Musk has put out some controversial tweets regarding the pandemic since it began in late 2019. In March of 2020, when global COVID infections had crossed the one lakh mark, he tweeted: “the coronavirus panic is dumb”.

In March 2020, Mr. Musk had predicted in a tweet that COVID cases in the U.S would become ‘zero’ by the end of April that year, when daily cases actually reached 20,000 at that time.

In the same year, he tweeted that Tesla would be reopening its assembly units in California’s Alameda County and Bay Area, violating lockdown rules, adding that if the authorities wanted to arrest someone, it should be him.

Mr. Musk had also expressed doubts about COVID positivity rates and efficacies of vaccines.

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