Mr. Musk said he wanted to confirm Twitter’s findings that spam and fake accounts make up less than 5 percent of its users.
Elon Musk escalated the drama surrounding his $44 billion bid to purchase Twitter on Friday, saying in a pre-dawn tweet that the deal was “temporarily on hold” until he could get more details about the volume of spam and fake accounts on the platform, and two hours later tweeting that he was “still committed” to the acquisition.
The announcements mark the latest chapter in an unfolding corporate saga that has raised questions about free speech online and the ramifications of putting the world’s richest person in charge of one of the most influential social media platforms.
Mr. Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, has said that ridding the platform of fake accounts, bots and spam would be one of his top priorities after taking over. In his tweet, Mr. Musk made reference to a May 2 regulatory filing by Twitter that included an estimate that fewer than 5 percent of Twitter’s users were spam and fake accounts.
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Known for his freewheeling and sometimes impulsive business style, Mr. Musk’s comments left many wondering about the future of the deal.
Shares in Twitter had fallen about 20 percent in premarket trading after Mr. Musk’s initial tweet. He then posted again that he was “still committed to acquisition.”
Twitter has few restrictions on signing up for an account, and the company has long struggled with spam and bots. But it has been difficult to put an exact figure on the scale of the problem. In a May 2 regulatory filing, Twitter said that it had estimated that less than 5 percent of its users were fake or spam, a figure it had disclosed previously. Twitter cautioned that it had applied “significant judgment” in making the calculation and that its “estimation of false or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number,” language similar to that used in past filings from the company.
Mr. Musk’s comments were seen as either a tactic to drive down the price of the acquisition or a pretext for eventually backing out altogether.
“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,” Daniel Ives, an analyst with Wedbush, said in a note to investors.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Musk’s surprise bid for Twitter has sparked considerable debate about the role of a social media platform to police what is said by its users. Twitter has spent years trying to combat hate speech, harassment and other online abuse, but Mr. Musk, who has a history of using the platform to attack and belittle critics, has pledged to loosen the company’s content moderation policies. On Tuesday, he said he would lift a ban on former President Donald J. Trump.
How Elon Musk Bought Twitter
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A blockbuster deal. Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, capped what seemed an improbable attempt by the famously mercurial billionaire to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion. Here’s how the deal unfolded: The initial offer. Mr. Musk made an unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the influential social network, saying that he wanted to make Twitter a private company and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service.
The response. Twitter’s board countered Mr. Musk’s offer with a defense mechanism known as a “poison pill.” This well-worn corporate tactic makes a company less palatable to a potential acquirer by making it more expensive for them to buy shares above a certain threshold.
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