Elon Musk visited Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters Wednesday as the deadline looms for him to complete a $44 billion acquisition of the company. Musk tweeted a video of himself carrying what appeared to be a bathroom sink into the building with the caption “let that sink in!”
The world’s richest man, who appeared to have changed his profile bio on the platform to “Chief Twit” on Wednesday, has until 5pm E.T. on Friday to complete the takeover deal, or be forced to defend himself in court against legal action from Twitter.
If the deal closes this week, it would mean the end of an on-again off-again saga that has captivated the tech world. But it would likely be just the start of a period of sweeping change inside Twitter, which could have huge ramifications around the world.
What Musk will do at the helm of the company remains shrouded in mystery. He is widely predicted to preside over a loosening of Twitter’s rules and mass cost-cutting. He has flirted with Republican talking points, railing against Twitter’s “left-wing” staff, calling for more “free speech” on the platform, and suggesting he will end former President Donald Trump’s permanent ban – potentially even in time for the November midterm elections.
A report that Musk planned to cut costs by firing as much as 75% of the company’s staff prompted internal pushback in the form of an open letter on Monday. “We demand to be treated with dignity, and to not be treated as mere pawns in a game played by billionaires,” the letter said.
But it is difficult to tell how serious even the broad, known outlines of Musk’s plan for Twitter are. The Tesla CEO reportedly told investors in July that he aims to increase Twitter’s revenue from $5.08 billion in 2021 to $26.4 billion by 2028—an increase of 420% (a number associated with smoking marijuana).
Here’s what to know about the deal.
How did we get here?
Depending on who you ask, the six months since Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter have either been a masterclass in business, or a chaotic mess.
In late January Musk began buying shares in Twitter. He then started tweeting about his belief that Twitter was not doing enough to protect free speech, and said he was giving “serious thought” to building an alternative platform. By April, Musk had become Twitter’s largest single shareholder, with a 9% stake. Twitter invited him to join the company’s board, in a move seen by many observers as an attempt to disarm a nascent hostile takeover attempt. Musk accepted and then, days later, rejected the offer. He then made an offer to buy the company for $44 billion. In May, Musk said the deal was “temporarily on hold,” citing the problem of fake accounts, or bots, on the platform. By July 8 he had formally abandoned the deal, accusing the company of failing to provide accurate bot numbers. Twitter sued him. Musk countersued. Twitter’s case against him was set to go to trial in October. Shortly before it was set to begin, Musk dropped his objections and said he would go through with the deal at the agreed price of $44 billion. The Delaware judge delayed the trial, giving Musk until 5 p.m. E.T. on Oct. 28 to close the deal.
What has Musk said he will do at Twitter?
Musk has suggested a grab-bag of (occasionally contradictory) ideas for how to make Twitter more popular and more profitable. They can be separated into three rough baskets: changes to the rules, new features, and cutting costs.
Musk has suggested a suite of new features for Twitter, in order to attract new users and drive up revenue. These range from grandiose plans—like integrating a payment system into Twitter, turning it into “X, the everything app”—to fine tuning nitty-gritty details, like allowing users to choose their own recommendation algorithms. He has suggested encrypting users’ private messages, and turbocharging Twitter Blue, the site’s paid membership tier, potentially even allowing users to pay to receive the blue “verified” checkmark.
Musk has also hinted at changes to the rules of Twitter. He has called himself a “free speech absolutist” and has said he wants to allow more content to remain on Twitter, so long as it isn’t spam and doesn’t break the law. He has said he wants to get rid of most forms of permanent bans, and indicated that he will allow Trump back onto the platform. Those rule changes may contradict his plans to bring new users to the site: plenty of research shows that sites with fewer restrictions on legal but harmful content, like hate speech and harassment, end up catering to a vocal minority of users with extreme views, while driving others away.
But in the challenging economic climate, it may be cutting costs where Musk makes his first real mark on the company. The Washington Post reported last week that Musk told investors he would fire as much as 75% of the workforce in an effort to streamline the business. Many Twitter employees who hold stock are concerned they will be fired immediately if the acquisition completes on Friday, two Twitter employees told TIME. The next round of Twitter stock held by employees vests on Nov. 1, and, which means the company would incur those costs if employees are still on payroll at that date, the people said.
What could get in the way?
Musk’s Twitter acquisition has cleared the U.S. government’s antitrust approval process, appearing to leave few obstacles in the way to him assuming control of the company as soon as the deal completes.
Bloomberg reported last week that the Biden Administration was weighing a review of the Musk acquisition on national security grounds, but an administration spokesperson later denied that report.
There’s a chance that Musk could once again back out of the deal, this time at the eleventh hour, potentially citing new legal arguments as to why he should not have to proceed with an acquisition at a price that he has admitted is far more for Twitter than it is worth. If that happens, Musk and Twitter would be headed for a potentially messy confrontation in a Delaware courtroom in November.
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Write to Billy Perrigo at email@example.com