Elon Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion on Monday, promising a more lenient touch to policing content on the platform where he promotes his interests, attacks critics and opines on social and economic issues to more than 83 million followers.
The outspoken Tesla CEO, who is also the world’s wealthiest person, has said he wanted to buy and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.
Mr. Musk said in a joint statement with Twitter that he wants to make the service “better than ever” with new features, such as getting rid of automated “spam bots” and making its algorithms open to the public to increase trust.
“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,” he said.
The deal was cemented roughly two weeks after the billionaire first revealed a 9% stake in the platform. Mr. Musk said last week that he had lined up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter, putting pressure on the company’s board to negotiate a deal.
Twitter said the transaction was unanimously approved by its board of directors. The 11-member board includes Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who has been planning to step down from the board in May. Twitter said the deal is expected to close sometime this year and is subject to the approval of Twitter stockholders and regulators.
Shares of Twitter Inc. rose 6% Monday to $52 per share. On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy the social media platform for $54.20 per share. While the stock is up sharply since Musk made his offer, it is well below the high of $77 per share it reached in February 2021.
Mr. Musk has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking or disparaging other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.
In recent weeks, he has voiced a number of proposed changes for the company, from relaxing its content restrictions — such as the rules that suspended former President Donald Trump’s account — to ridding the platform of fake and automated accounts, and shifting away from its advertising-based revenue model.
Asked during a recent TED talk if there are any limits to his notion of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter or any forum is “obviously bound by the laws of the country that it operates in. So obviously there are some limitations on free speech in the U.S., and, of course, Twitter would have to abide by those rules.”
Beyond that, though, he said he’d be “very reluctant” to delete things and in general be cautious about permanent bans.
It won’t be perfect, Mr. Musk added, “but I think we want it to really have the perception and reality that speech is as free as reasonably possible."
Twitter had initially enacted an anti-takeover measure known as a poison pill that could make a takeover attempt prohibitively expensive. But the board decided to negotiate after Musk updated his proposal last week to show he had secured financing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While Twitter’s user base of more than 200 million remains much smaller than those of rivals such as Facebook and TikTok, the service is popular with celebrities, world leaders, journalists and intellectuals. Musk himself is a prolific tweeter with a following that rivals several pop stars in the ranks of the most popular accounts.
Last week, he said in documents filed with U.S. securities regulators that the money would come from Morgan Stanley and other banks, some of it secured by his huge stake in Tesla.
Mr. Musk is the world’s wealthiest person, according to Forbes, with a nearly $279 billion fortune. But much of his money is tied up in Tesla stock — he owns about 17% of the electric car company, according to FactSet, which is valued at more than $1 trillion — and SpaceX, his privately held space company. It’s unclear how much cash Musk has.
Mr. Musk began making his fortune in 1999 when he sold Zip2, an online mapping and business directory, to Compaq for $307 million. He used his share to create what would become PayPal, an internet service that bypassed banks and allowed consumers to pay businesses directly. It was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.
That same year, Mr. Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, after finding that cost constraints were limiting NASA’s interplanetary travel. The company eventually developed cost-effective reusable rockets.
In 2004, Mr. Musk was courted to invest in Tesla, then a startup trying to build an electric car. Eventually he became CEO and led the company to astronomical success as the world’s most valuable automaker and largest seller of electric vehicles.