Bengaluru－Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk warned Twitter on Monday that he might walk away from his $44 billion deal to acquire the social media company if it fails to provide data on spam and fake accounts that he seeks.
This was not the first time that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO had suggested publicly his acquisition of Twitter may not happen. But the warning, delivered in a letter from Musk’s lawyers to Twitter’s chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, marked an escalation. It accused Twitter of being in “material breach” of its deal obligations.
Musk’s threats to tear up the deal have coincided with a plunge in many technology stocks－including Tesla, the electric carmaker that he leads－amid concerns over an economic slowdown and higher interest rates in the face of raging inflation.
Twitter shares ended 1.5 percent down at $39.57 on Monday, a large discount to the agreed $54.20 deal price, as investors bet Musk will either convince Twitter to agree to a lower deal price or walk away.
In the letter to Twitter, Musk’s lawyers reiterated his request for details on bot accounts and said he reserved all rights to terminate the acquisition as the company was in “clear material breach” of its obligations by not providing him with the information.
Twitter responded that it planned to enforce the completion of the deal on the agreed terms. “Twitter has and will continue to cooperatively share information with Musk to consummate the transaction in accordance with the terms of the merger agreement,” said the company in a statement.
A self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, Musk has said one of his priorities will be to remove “spam bots” from the platform.
He tweeted that the Twitter deal was “temporarily on hold” in mid-May, saying he will not move forward with the offer until the company showed proof that spam bots account for less than 5 percent of its total users. He said he believes spam bots constitute at least 20 percent of the user base.
Independent researchers have projected that 9 to 15 percent of the millions of Twitter profiles may be bots.
In his letter, Musk said he needs the data to conduct his own analysis of Twitter users because he did not believe in the company’s “lax testing methodologies”. Twitter said it stands by its projections and it cannot provide proprietary information on how it produces them.
“He is trying to walk away from the Twitter deal, this is the first shot across the bow,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said.