Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, acquired Twitter in a US$44 billion deal on April 25, 2022, 11 days after announcing his bid for the company. Twitter announced that the public company will become privately held after the acquisition is complete.
Mr Musk will pay $54.20 cash per share for the San Francisco-based company, which will now be taken private after days of intense negotiations between the entrepreneur and the platform’s board.
“Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world. Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important,”said Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s CEO.
The board announced it had reached a deal with Mr Musk on Monday, and that it represented a 38 per cent premium from Twitter’s closing price on 1 April, the day before the world’s richest person made his move for the company by announcing his nine per cent stake.
Mr will likely make some significant changes to the social media platform, having made several hints in recent months about what his intentions are. It comes after Musk’s friend Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO and Parag Agrawal took over.
You can follow all the latest developments from Musk’s Twitter takeover bid in our live coverage below.
What makes Twitter unique
Twitter occupies a unique niche. Its short chunks of text and threading foster real-time conversations among thousands of people, which makes it popular with celebrities, media personalities and politicians alike.
Social media analysts talk about the half-life of content on a platform, meaning the time it takes for a piece of content to reach 50% of its total lifetime engagement, usually measured in number of views or popularity based metrics. The average half life of a tweet is about 20 minutes, compared to five hours for Facebook posts, 20 hours for Instagram posts, 24 hours for LinkedIn posts and 20 days for YouTube videos. The much shorter half life illustrates the central role Twitter has come to occupy in driving real-time conversations as events unfold.
Twitter’s ability to shape real-time discourse, as well as the ease with which data, including geo-tagged data, can be gathered from Twitter has made it a gold mine for researchers to analyze a variety of societal phenomena, ranging from public health to politics. Twitter data has been used to predict asthma-related emergency department visits, measure public epidemic awareness, and model wildfire smoke dispersion.
Tweets that are part of a conversation are shown in chronological order, and, even though much of a tweet’s engagement is frontloaded, the Twitter archive provides instant and complete access to every public Tweet. This positions Twitter as a historical chronicler of record and a de facto fact checker.
Twitter’s content moderation and revenue model
To understand Musk’s motivations and what lies next for social media platforms such as Twitter, it’s important to consider the gargantuan – and opaque – online advertising ecosystem involving multiple technologies wielded by ad networks, social media companies and publishers. Advertising is the primary revenue source for Twitter.
Musk’s vision is to generate revenue for Twitter from subscriptions rather than advertising. Without having to worry about attracting and retaining advertisers, Twitter would have less pressure to focus on content moderation. This could make Twitter a sort of freewheeling opinion site for paying subscribers. In contrast, until now Twitter has been aggressive in using content moderation in its attempts to address disinformation.
Musk’s description of a platform free from content moderation issues is troubling in light of the algorithmic harms caused by social media platforms. Research has shown a host of these harms, such as algorithms that assign gender to users, potential inaccuracies and biases in algorithms used to glean information from these platforms, and the impact on those looking for health information online.
Testimony by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and recent regulatory efforts such as the online safety bill unveiled in the U.K. show there is broad public concern about the role played by technology platforms in shaping popular discourse and public opinion. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter highlights a whole host of regulatory concerns.
Because of Musk’s other businesses, Twitter’s ability to influence public opinion in the sensitive industries of aviation and the automobile industry automatically creates a conflict of interest, not to mention affects the disclosure of material information necessary for shareholders. Musk has already been accused of delaying disclosure of his ownership stake in Twitter.
Twitter’s own algorithmic bias bounty challenge concluded that there needs to be a community-led approach to build better algorithms. A very creative exercise developed by the MIT Media Lab asks middle schoolers to re-imagine the YouTube platform with ethics in mind. Perhaps it’s time to ask Musk to do the same with Twitter.