How Elon Musk’s Attempt to Pull the Twitter Trial Could Backfire

Content Alert: I’m going to be doing a close reading for a while Violation of the principles of New Criticism,

I woke up this morning upset, so we’re going to take a closer look at this Internet artifact: a semi-viral tweet in which Elon Musk is discussing Twitter bots in what appears to be some kind of blurred-out conference room. There is an audience, though – you get to hear them laugh.

Here’s a lightly edited version of what Musk says in this video snippet:

…this is extremely fundamental and anyone who uses Twitter knows very well that comment threads are full of spam, scams and lots of fake accounts. That’s why it’s not fair for Twitter to claim that… over 95 percent of the truly unique humans you see commenting on Twitter on a daily basis… that’s what they’re claiming. Anyone have such experience? [laughter from the audience and from Musk] Absolutely.

The video is snapped from the All-In Summit in May (his comments start at 2:00 or so). By the time of this recording, Musk had signed a deal to acquire Twitter for $44 billion.

Now, for the content. Musk adds that “anyone who uses Twitter knows very well that comment threads are full of spam, scams, and lots of fake accounts.” It’s an exaggeration – My The answers guys are top tier – but it hits on some truth. No one can claim that they haven’t seen bots, spammers and people pretending to be masquerades to get your money. I’ve seen a lot of them notably in Musk’s mentions.

Musk further asks if anyone has experience interacting with real people 95 percent of the time, to laughter from the audience and chuckles of their own. The intention here, with an apology to John Crow Ransom, is contempt for the notion that 95 percent of Twitter accounts are people.

If you watch the longer video – not just the clip – Musk is being interviewed. The clip cuts to Twitter before Musk suggests that if you think you’re interacting with most people, “there’s a bridge I want to sell you.” (I guess I want to hear about bridge?) He then suggests that the “lowest estimate” of fake accounts is something like 20 percent. This conjecture appears to be based on nothing – if there is a source, Musk certainly does not cite it.

Musk also boasts that he has the most popular tweet of any human, About to get Coca-Cola to “bring back cocaine”“A stunt I’ll support if I think Musk can actually close the deal. Musk shocked, how’s this popular tweet Even more popular? Literally, he says, “Monetizable daily active users are what Twitter says [on the platform] 217 million. So why would it be that the most popular tweet of all time is, basically, only two and a half percent of the entire user base?”

When the camera cuts back to the in-person event, Peter Thiel is seen holding his forehead. (I’ve never felt close to Musk’s PayPal co-founder Thiel in my life.) One possible answer, Elon, is that a lot of people use reverse chronological feeds, so if you’ve been actively watching Twitter. Haven’t tweeted it, haven’t seen it. Or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t think it was that much fun! Simply Speaking Strategically, “Why Am I Not More Popular” Isn’t A Great Question To Ask Publicly Because someone will answer it.

Musk digs further. (Again, I’ve lightly edited this quote so that it speaks in full sentences.) “Nothing adds up here. My concern – it’s not 5 or 7 or 8 percent, but is it potentially 80 Percent or 90 percent is a bot? I know for sure that there are some real people on Twitter. Is it an order of magnitude? Is it 50 percent instead of 5?”

The added context doesn’t really improve the clip – it just makes it worse. I say “worse” because Musk’s lawyers argue that he was tricked by Twitter into opting out of a contract he signed. So it has to believe representations made by Twitter about its user base and then be surprised to find that, oh, no. But this video refutes that idea – it states that Everyone Knows that Twitter is full of bots. no way twitter could lie Him.

Forget the logic of whether unauthenticated accounts are important to the Twitter deal. We don’t even need to have this conversation! Here’s what Musk is saying: knew for sure Twitter was full of bots and scams, as any sane person would do. This is why the clip went viral, apparently. Will Twitter’s lawyers use it? Who knows! But that’s leverage, baby.

Musk talks publicly veryWhich means Twitter certainly has an oddly huge team of unhappy junior attorneys prospecting YouTube for any comments Musk makes that would mess up his case.

However, this may not mean a dramatic courtroom moment. The public drama of summons etc. obscures a possible private play. See, Twitter has to behave like it will force Musk to buy the company — but if the real goal is just to get a big payout, over and above the $1 billion contract Musk has signed, So this kind of leverage means Twitter could be asking for even more money to make itself whole. Or, I guess, a lower acquisition price, but that sounds like a loss for Twitter. Personally, I’d start negotiating a nice $15 billion payout for my trouble, of which Twitter would remain independent.

How did I get that number? Another $6.9 billion of Tesla stock sold well — well over and above the $8.4 billion it sold in April, despite Musk tweeting “no more TSLA sales planned after today” on April 28. So, this $15.3 billion Musk made up Tesla stock, which he claims he only sold for the Twitter deal.

Musk’s plausible argument for the new sale is to “avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock” if Twitter forces the deal to close and “some equity partners don’t come.” Well? It’s not helping? Part of Twitter’s lawsuit alleges that Musk sabotaged the financing efforts he was obliged to undertake. In terms of selling more Tesla shares that, um, some partners don’t come through, Twitter’s accusations seem more serious to me, even though Musk doesn’t have enough cash to close the deal.

For now, though, we have more legal wrangling. Musk wants names of Twitter employees involved in bot count. I think Twitter is shielding these people for a reason: Gadde, the general counsel on Twitter, was also harassed online after Musk publicly criticized Vijaya Gadde. My former drinking buddy Casey Newton thinks this request for names is a sign that Musk is flailing.

I agree that Musk is flailing, but I don’t think that’s why he wants the name. It’s a way of trying to iron out the matter and punishing Twitter in the process. Musk’s impetus here is to make the legal case as long and painful and exhaustive as possible, so Twitter is more liable to settle. The thing is, given the extensive public record and potentially extensive private record of Musk’s comments, Twitter is unlikely to blink.

Still, the longer this goes on, the more opportunities Musk has to shoot himself in the foot. For example: Tesla stock sale. At one point, Musk said that “the difference between Tesla being worth a lot of money and basically zero” is whether the company successfully solves self-driving. But his sale, to Twitter — though if the deal isn’t concluded, who knows what he’ll do with that cash — poses a problem for Tesla. Look, Tesla hasn’t succeeded in self-driving yet, so it could cost zero. This makes Musk feel that he is getting out even though the getting is good.

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