Business

Elon Musk puts Twitter deal ‘on hold’ over spam bot data — but he’s ‘still committed’

Elon Musk said Friday that his planned US$44-billion purchase of Twitter is “temporarily on hold” pending details on spam and fake accounts on the social media platform, adding later that he’s “still committed” to the acquisition.

Musk, who has been vocal about his desire to clean up Twitter’s problem with “spam bots” that mimic real people, appeared to question whether the company was underreporting them.

In a tweet, the Tesla billionaire linked to a Reuters story from May 2 citing a financial filing from Twitter that estimated false or spam accounts made up fewer than five per cent of the company’s “monetizable daily active users” in the first quarter.

“Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users,” Musk said, indicating he’s skeptical that the number of inauthentic accounts is that low.

It wasn’t clear whether the issue could scuttle the deal.

Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Friday.

Musk stated in a follow-up tweet two hours later that he was “still committed to acquisition.”

Stock in both Twitter and Tesla swung sharply in opposite directions after the first tweet. Twitter’s stock tumbled 18 per cent, and Tesla, which Musk had proposed using to help fund the Twitter deal, jumped five per cent.

Investors have had to weigh legal troubles for Musk, as well as the possibility that acquiring Twitter could be a distraction from running the world’s most valuable automaker. The proposed deal continued to pressure shares of Tesla, which had already fallen 16 per cent this week.

The sharp jump in the price of Tesla shares before the opening bell Friday singled rising doubts that the acquisition of Twitter will take place.

Musk has already sold off more than $8 billion worth of his Tesla shares to finance the purchase.

Originally Musk had committed to borrowing $12.5 billion with Tesla stock as collateral to buy Twitter. He also would borrow $13 billion from banks and put up $21 billion in Tesla equity.

Last week, Musk strengthened the equity stake in his offer for Twitter with commitments of more than $7 billion from a diverse group of investors including Silicon Valley heavy hitters like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

Money from the new investors cuts the amount borrowed on the value of Tesla stock to $6.25 billion, according to the filing. The Tesla equity share could go from $21 billion to $27.25 billion.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who follows both Tesla and Twitter, said Musk’s “bizarre” tweet will lead Wall Street to either think the deal is likely falling apart, Musk is attempting to negotiate a lower deal price, or he is simply walking away from the deal with a $1 billion penalty.

“Many will view this as Musk using this Twitter filing/spam accounts as a way to get out of this deal in a vastly changing market,” Ives wrote.

He added that the Musk’s use of Twitter rather than a financial filing to make the announcement was troubling and “sends this whole deal into a circus show with many questions and no concrete answers as to the path of this deal going forward.”

Musk’s tweet comes a day after the social media company fired two of its top managers. Twitter said the company is pausing most hiring, except for critical roles, and is “pulling back on non-labor costs to ensure we are being responsible and efficient.”

In a memo sent to employees and confirmed by Twitter, CEO Parag Agrawal said the company has not hit growth and revenue milestones after the company began to invest “aggressively” to expand its user base and revenue.