Twitter users will “benefit” from Elon Musk’s move to pull out of the deal to buy the company, some experts say.
The Tesla and SpaceX boss’s 44 billion dollar (£36.5 billion) bid to buy the social media platform appeared to be on the verge of collapse on Friday, after he sent a letter saying he is terminating the acquisition.
In the letter, Mr Musk’s lawyers said the platform has “not complied with its contractual obligations” surrounding the deal, namely giving him enough information to “make an independent assessment of the prevalence of fake or spam accounts on Twitter’s platform”.
Twitter said in response it is “committed to closing the transaction” and plans to “pursue legal action” in order to conclude the deal.
The Twitter Board is committed to closing the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr. Musk and plans to pursue legal action to enforce the merger agreement. We are confident we will prevail in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
— Bret Taylor (@btaylor) July 8, 2022
Adam Leon Smith, of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and a software testing expert, told the PA news agency: “The number of spam accounts on Twitter is hardly a secret, or a surprise.
“Twitter is like a town square, open to all to shout abuse and praise as they see fit.
“That is its greatest strength and weaknesses at the same time.
“Keeping free speech out of the hands of billionaires can only be for the benefit of the general public.
“Whoever ends up owning Twitter, the challenges for all social media are how to manage dissent and debate in a way that ends online hate speech and keeps people safe.
“These are yet be fully resolved in the UK’s Online Safety Bill, which needs to balance technical and regulatory solutions with education.
“Perhaps the upcoming global regulatory landscape has played a part in Mr Musk’s decision, or maybe the whole thing was just another PR stunt.”
Mr Musk’s interest in the number of spam accounts on Twitter is believed to be linked to his then proposed plans to further monetise the platform’s userbase.
The billionaire has also said he wanted to bolster free speech on the platform and make it more of a digital town square for debate, but has raised concerns after saying he would reverse the permanent ban given to former US president Donald Trump, who was kicked off the site for inciting violence around the US Capitol building riots last year.
Paul Bernal, professor of information technology law at the University of East Anglia, said: “The main thing to say is that the current situation is not unexpected: a lot of us have been thinking that Musk was getting cold feet and has been looking for a way out.
“Owning Twitter sounds ‘cool’ but the reality would not be easy, would not be fun, and would not be particularly lucrative.
“This is a reflection of how difficult ‘free speech’ is in general, a lot of people, particularly in the US, seem to imagine that all you do is ‘stop censoring’ and then everything will be OK, but it’s really much more nuanced and multifaceted than that.
“Whatever you do has implications, and will annoy one group or another.”
A Twitter Board statement read: “We are committed to closing the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr Musk and plan to pursue legal action to enforce the merger agreement.
“We are confident we will prevail in the Delaware Court of Chancery.”