Sep 16, 2022 - Podcasts
How It Happened

Elon Musk vs. Twitter Part 1: Not A Chill Normal Dude

Image of Elon Musk
Image: Trina Craven/Axios Design. Photo: Patrick Pleul/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

ERICA PANDEY: Hi, I’m Erica Pandey. I’m the host of this season of “How It Happened.” As a business reporter at Axios, I’ve focused on technology and the future — and every rabbit hole I’ve gone down in some way leads to one person, Elon Musk.

ELON MUSK ARCHIVAL: I'd first like to share with you my vision for the future. I believe in renewable energy. I believe that humanity must become a multi-planetary space bearing civilization. Those seem like exciting goals, don't they?

PANDEY: He’s bold in what he does and in how he talks about it — and he’s always giving his elevator pitch.

That speech you just heard was not from a board meeting at one of his companies, like Tesla or SpaceX, or in a pitch meeting to rally investors. He said that on Saturday Night Live last year.

He has cultural significance; he’s cited as an inspiration for the modern Iron Man movies. He disrupted the commercial space industry and the automotive industry — simultaneously. He’s a crucial employer in the U.S. Across his companies, including SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, and Boring, he employs more than 100,000 people. He’s the world richest man, with an estimated net worth of over $250 billion, and he’s the most talked about billionaire.

He has so much money and power and influence and audacity and nerve – that his vision of the future might soon just be known as … the future.

In April, Musk’s meteoric rise collided with the trajectory of another Silicon Valley success story: Twitter.

SPEAKER ON MSNBC: The world’s richest guy is set to buy one of the world’s biggest social media companies.

Elon Musk's offer to buy Twitter

PANDEY: Twitter was founded in 2006 and has become the global public square. It also became the platform of choice for Elon Musk, someone who gets involved in things he cares about. He set his sights on reshaping Twitter and made an offer to buy the platform for an eye-popping $44 billion, announced in a tweet. But then … he backtracked.

SPEAKER ON CNN: What else do we know about Musk's reversal here?

SPEAKER ON CNN: We know that this is setting up a massive legal battle.

PANDEY: A trial between Twitter and Musk looms. It matters because if Musk loses and he’s forced to buy Twitter, he could become the arbiter of free speech on a social media platform with hundreds of millions of global users.

But Twitter’s power isn’t in how many users it has — it’s in how powerful its users are. Heads of state, CEOs, celebrities all use the platform. A lot of power brokering happens on Twitter.

So you can see how, if Musk also controls Twitter, his ability to make world-changing decisions continues to mount.

That’s why it’s important to understand Musk. How did he become this genius billionaire figure? Why does it seem like his influence is … inescapable?

In this first episode, you’ll hear who Musk is — in his own words over the years, and through exclusive interviews with people who have been close to him since his earliest ventures.

From Axios, this is How it Happened: Elon Musk vs. Twitter. Part 1: Not A Chill Normal Dude.”

PANDEY: We’ve seen plenty of tech titans rise, but we haven’t seen an Elon Musk before.

DAN PRIMACK: Elon Musk changes society more than any other business person in America.

PANDEY: Dan Primack, Axios’ business editor, has covered Elon Musk for over 20 years. Primack covered the rise of Paypal in the early 2000’s, where Musk was an early CEO.

PRIMACK: Most successful tech entrepreneurs do one thing and do it very, very well. Elon has gone into multiple industries, which have very little to do with one another — online payments, space travel, electric vehicles, and, not just succeeded for his own companies, has literally changed the industries for its rivals.

PANDEY: The thing with Elon Musk is this: Whatever you think you know about his accomplishments, there was always something else he was working on at the same time. And so, we’re going to break down how he built his cross-industry empire.

We reached out to Elon Musk directly as well as his companies Tesla, SpaceX, Boring, and Neuralink. Musk declined to comment for this podcast. His companies did not respond.

Musk’s journey to Paypal was extraordinary. He grew up in South Africa. He was obsessed with science fiction and wrote a computer game at age 12 — in 1984. He has spoken about being bullied as a child — and, in a 2021 SNL appearance, he self-identified as being on the autism spectrum.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I'm actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger's to host SNL or at least the first to admit it. So I won't make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight, but, alright, I'm pretty good at running human and emulation mode.

Elon Musk and the American dream

PANDEY: He ended up in Canada for college, but transferred to UPenn, which brought him to the U.S. He quickly became a poster child for the American dream, ambitious and incredibly hardworking. Then, at the dawn of the modern internet, he built a publishing platform, sold it, then jumped into online payments with X.com. That merged with another company to become Paypal in 2000. He talked about why he bet on payments in a 1999 CNN documentary.

MUSK: I think x.com could absolutely be a multi-billion dollar Bonanza, because, if you look at the industry that X is pursuing, it's the biggest sector of the world economy.

PRIMACK: He wanted to bring banking online, which was not just revolutionary from a consumer standpoint: banking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. And you've seen him do this again, when it comes to transportation and when it comes to space travel.

MIRIAM KRAMER: He is unequivocally considered a visionary. He is seen as a genius in the space industry.

PANDEY: Miriam Kramer is the space reporter for Axios.

How PayPal helped fund Musk's SpaceX

KRAMER: Elon Musk made his money through PayPal and then his money funded SpaceX. He came in and disrupted everything about the way that the old guard was doing it. I mean, companies like Boeing, like Lockheed Martin, were sort of sitting pretty in this world of just government money and huge contracts that just continued to inflate and inflate and inflate and SpaceX came in and undercut everything.

PANDEY: SpaceX cut costs in manufacturing and delivering cargo to space — but that isn’t what drives the company. Musk’s big vision for SpaceX is even more ambitious.

KRAMER: Musk has this vision of making humans a multiplanetary species. What that means is, effectively, SpaceX wants to bring a lot of people to Mars — like Mars, the red planet, like the one not so far from here. And it motivates everything that they do, including their current projects.

This all might sound a little out there, but SpaceX is known for doing things that are kind of out there. SpaceX brought the cost of launch down to a fraction of what it had been because of their gains in reusable. Rocket technology satellites have been used for telecommunications for decades, but there are still dead zones all over the world.

But SpaceX built out a satellite company, Starlink, that's right now closing connectivity gaps all over the planet. And it's been a crucial network for the Ukrainian military in the war against Russia.

SPEAKER ON INQUIRER.NET: Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky said he spoke with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Saturday, confirming that next week Ukraine would receive more Starlink satellite internet terminals.

MUSK SPEAKING FROM NORWAY: Ukraine government tells me it's been very helpful.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY SPEAKING ON VIDEO CALL WITH MUSK: So if you'll have time after the war, you are very welcome. I invite you …

NASA and SpaceX

PANDEY: SpaceX couldn’t have become this game-changer without NASA. Former deputy NASA administrator Lori Garver was instrumental in SpaceX, securing early NASA contracts.

Those were a huge deal because they established SpaceX as one of the top partners to NASA’s space program. And Garver says while this partnership made Musk billions, it also saved billions for American taxpayers. And it did something else for our economy.

LORI GARVER: The U.S. had lost the entire market share of commercial satellite launches to the Chinese, the Russians and the French. That has been completely turned around by SpaceX. Now, in 2020, the U.S. was the leading provider of commercial space launches. That is worth billions of dollars to our economy.

PANDEY: While Musk was doing all of this in the space industry, he was also challenging the titans of the automotive industry. He founded SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla came along the next year.

Tesla changed the automotive industry

JOANN MULLER: Without a doubt, Elon Musk has changed the auto industry and, I think, without him pushing the envelope, it’s likely that Detroit would not be moving as fast as it is now.

PANDEY: Joann Muller is the transportation reporter for Axios.

MULLER: There are a number of reasons why electric vehicles never really took off. They were expensive to make and to buy. And so there really wasn't a market for them among consumers.

PANDEY: The auto industry was still so fixated on gasoline cars, that even when they tried to sell a battery-powered car, it fell short. And nothing they were peddling seemed futuristic. Here’s a 2008 Chevy Volt commercial that captures this really well.

CHEVROLET COMMERCIAL: A car that can go up to 40 miles before it uses any gas at all. That's an American revolution.

MULLER: 40 miles is nothing, and that was part of the problem. Consumers didn’t have any place to charge them. They were worried about being stranded. So that was a big hurdle. And, finally, you know, Detroit had been making cars the same way for a hundred years and they saw no reason to change either until, of course, Tesla came along.

Tesla's advantage

Tesla's big advantage is that they were starting from scratch. They had a clean sheet of paper. They had none of that costly manufacturing baggage or gasoline engines that Detroit had. And I think that allowed them the freedom to really imagine what a car of the future would be like.

The cars were sleek and they were sexy and they were high-tech. They weren’t like any car we’d ever seen before and they cost a small fortune. Back in 2008, Tesla Roadsters could go for as much as $100,000.

Then came the Model S, and that was truly revolutionary. It had giant screens inside. There were hardly any buttons. And the biggest breakthrough of all is that it would get better over time with software updates. It was like your phone … No other car could do that at the time. Even today, the vast majority of cars depreciate in value, but Musk was envisioning a car that would be worth more over time.

PANDEY: As Tesla became more popular, myths swirled around the car company.

Tesla and Musk

MULLER: There is this misconception that Elon Musk founded Tesla — he wasn’t one of the original founders when the company first incorporated — but he shared the vision and very soon after, he brought the money to get the company off the ground.

He also immediately began building up one of Tesla’s most valuable assets: its fan base, which included Hollywood celebrities. The cars were a status symbol.

The images of Tesla and Elon Musk became intertwined in 2006, when he released this blog post called “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan” that was subtitled “Just between you and me.” It was the moment Elon Musk elbowed the other founders aside, and presented himself as the inventor of Tesla.

At the time, the idea of direct communication was in the air. Twitter launched that year. And his blog post in a way foreshadowed how he'd eventually use Twitter to communicate directly with — and rally — the Tesla community.

A CEO internet celebrity

PANDEY: In some ways Musk was the first CEO internet celebrity. The image he was crafting in those years and the way he used it to sell cars was a preview of the online influencer dynamic. Celebrities and CEOs became the early Tesla adopters.

As Musk’s star rose as the head of two futuristic companies and he got into relationships with Hollywood women … he became the ultimate Tesla Influencer — he was living this aspirational lifestyle.

Today the electric vehicle industry is booming — and so is Tesla. They sold more than nine hundred thousand vehicles last year, an all-time record for the company. Meanwhile, Musk bought a solar energy company, too. And Tesla now makes renewable energy chargers that can power an entire house.

At a conference in Norway in August, Musk shared his two biggest goals for the year. They’re still very much centered on SpaceX and Tesla, but he continues to flirt with the limits of what’s possible:

MUSK ARCHIVAL: The two technologies I'm focused on trying to ideally get done before the end of the year are getting our Starship to orbit, which I think is important for expanding consciousness beyond earth, and life beyond earth. And then having the Tesla cars be able to do self-driving.

PANDEY: But the new spaceship, Starship, and autonomous Teslas are just the beginning with Musk. He’s also the co-founder of Neuralink, a brain technology company, and the Boring Company, which is working on underground transportation.

This the kind of person whose solution to every problem is to start another company.

REID HOFFMAN: I do think he is one of the great entrepreneurs of our time and generation. He repetitively takes on superhard challenges.

PANDEY: Reid Hoffman is a Silicon Valley titan in his own right. He co-founded LinkedIn and Paypal. He’s also a partner at Greylock, a venture capital group.

He’s known Musk since their Paypal days. Hoffman later became an investor in SpaceX.

HOFFMAN: Part of that is a coherent vision, a willingness to go really hard and bold, an ability to assemble capital, and a kind of vigor behind and an ability to get through. You know, kind of death-defying, where you think, “Oh, my God, this isn't gonna work.” And he just keeps going at it.

He's always been very intellectually principled, has a kind of a vision of what he is trying to build, a deep degree of certainty that he can do it and that he can navigate risks.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: Some things are risky, but if the stakes are important enough, then you take the risk.

PANDEY: That’s Musk, speaking in August in Norway, again.

For Musk, the stakes couldn't be higher. He literally sees his companies fighting for the survival of our species. He talked about this at the TED 2022 conference in April.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I love humanity and I think that we should fight for a good future for humanity. And I think we should be optimistic about the future and fight to make that optimistic future happen.

PANDEY: Musk’s visions aren’t just abstractions. He is known as someone who wants to get his hands dirty. He has an absurd number of job titles, which include “co-founder” many times over — but also chief engineer at SpaceX, and product architect at Tesla.

PRIMACK: He's extraordinarily demanding. He's very hands-on. He hates this kind of gospel of inertia.

PANDEY: Dan Primack –

PRIMACK: In general, it is Elon looking at something or an industry that hasn't changed very much. And kind of just looking and saying … why not? And he refuses to listen to the conventional wisdom about why certain things can't be done.

PANDEY: Musk in Norway, again:

MUSK ARCHIVAL: Sometimes people call me, like, a businessman, I guess I have to do business. You have to have a group of people, ‘cause I can't just do this in a garage by myself. But I'm fundamentally an engineer or technologist.

PANDEY: That’s what Musk wants to clarify about himself. And here’s what his friend Reid Hoffman thinks people miss about him.

HOFFMAN: While he is intense and focused on the vision, that the quest he is on, they kind of frequently mistake the kind of sense of, you know, almost self-deprecating humor.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I reinvented electric cars and I'm sending people to Mars in our rocket ship. Did you think I was also gonna be a chill normal dude?

PANDEY: We’ll be right back.

[AD BREAK]

PANDEY: We’re back. You just heard about how Musk is a tech titan unlike any other. But Musk isn't just a singular leader in the way he's approached business. He's also unconventional in how he communicates — unfiltered, direct, and publicly on Twitter.

Elon Musk's Twitter

In May, Musk went on the “All-In” podcast. It’s hosted by a group of his buddies in Silicon Valley, other entrepreneurs he’s crossed paths with. They called the episode “Bestie guestie.”

SPEAKER ON ALL-IN: My pal, and your favorite CEO and Twitter-er, Mr. Elon Musk. How you doing pal?

PANDEY: Musk talked about his Twitter use.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I have the honor of having the most liked tweet of any living human. Thank you everyone for liking my tweet.

PANDEY: Musk is a Twitter power user. He has more than 105 million followers. He tweets about the things he believes in. My colleague Zach Basu is reading Musk’s tweets. Listeners may find some of this material offensive.

@elonmusk: Self-driving electric cars will be all that matters. Gas car without autonomy will be like riding a horse & using a flip phone. That still happens, but it’s niche.

PANDEY: At times Musk plays the role of thought-leader-CEO, spreading positive vibes.

@elonmusk: From time to time, I will share some things that seem to be working for me, in case you find it helpful

@elonmusk: Please share some things in this thread which are working for you in life & that others may find helpful!

PANDEY: In those moments, he seems earnest, vulnerable, relatable.

@elonmusk: On advice of a good friend, I’ve been fasting periodically & feel healthier

PANDEY: I mean, who among us has not taken dietary advice from a friend?

But, overall, his tweets are unlike those of any other CEO in America right now, and it’s not because he’s so unguarded. It’s in part because he’s a curator of memes that you would find on 4chan or Reddit. There are a lot of dirty jokes that you would never expect to see on a CEO’s blue-check-marked account. Here’s an example from 2011.

@elonmusk: Sew one button, doesn't make u a tailor; cook one meal, doesn't make u a chef; but f* one horse and u r a horsef*er for all of history…

PANDEY: Musk didn’t tweet that in 2011 on a whim and delete it in shame. He didn’t tweet it in 2011 and forget about it and accidentally leave it up in perpetuity to be discovered by some other person. Elon Musk tweeted that in 2011 and then he resurfaced the tweet eight years later, in 2019, by replying to the original tweet.

@elonmusk: I was always crazy on Twitter fyi

PANDEY: Here’s another pair of pretty un-CEO tweets.

@elonmusk: Am thinking of starting new university: Texas Institute of Technology & Science

PANDEY: Texas Institute of Tech and Science. That’s TITS.

@elonmusk: It will have epic merch.

PANDEY: He talks about his own sex life on Twitter, which, forget CEOs, even most laypoeple don’t do. During a recent newscycle in which the Wall Street Journal reported that Musk had an affair with a friend’s wife, he denied the affair repeatedly on Twitter, and then tweeted this:

@elonmusk: Haven’t even had sex in ages (sigh)

PANDEY: And sometimes the richest man in the world is just plain insensitive. In the midst of a global economic crisis and massive inflation in the U.S., he didn’t go thought-leader-CEO, he tweeted a meme that reads:

@elonmusk: Have you Tried Turning the Economy Off, and Then Turning it Back on Again.

PANDEY: Musk is aware of how problematic his Twitter can be, and he laughed at himself on SNL …

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I also write things like, 69 days after 4/20 again. Haha. I don't know. I thought it was funny. That's why I wrote haha at the end.

PANDEY: So 69 is a sex joke. 420 is a weed reference.

But some of his jokes can translate to real-world harm, though, adding to a climate of intolerance, for example. He has mocked people who list their gender pronouns, alarming transgender rights advocates.

Scott Rosenberg, managing editor for technology at Axios, has covered Musk for decades.

SCOTT ROSENBERG: You're telling the group of people and, in Elon Musk's case, it's a hundred million people: Here's what I think of this other group of people. I think that I'm gonna make fun of them and it's OK for you to make fun of them, too, and that kind of dehumanization is sort of the first step down the road to much graver and real harms.

Elon Musk's children

PANDEY: One of Musk’s children identifies as trans and has completely cut ties with him. To date, Musk has been urged to apologize for these comments by organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign. He's defended himself on Twitter, characterizing his comments as specifically critical of pronoun references.

He’s also picked fights with individuals who have far less power and influence than he has, and that can escalate quickly. Things got particularly ugly when Missy Cummings, a transportation safety expert, was announced as a hire by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A twitter user flagged her appointment and Musk replied on Twitter:

@elonmusk: Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla.

PANDEY: Cummings had scrutinized Tesla in the past, but her specialty was in evaluating autopilot software for aviation and vehicles, so that wasn’t incredibly surprising. And Teslas that are on “autopilot” mode have been involved in fatal accidents. But Tesla superfans threatened violence and circulated a petition asking President Biden himself to reconsider the hire.

One Tesla superfan with a Youtube channel called “Dr. Know-it-all Knows it all” made a 13-minute video to explain why he thought this was terrible.

SPEAKER ON YOUTUBE: So I want to talk about what's going on with this particular appointment, why I'm so pissed off and also what I think the underlying reasons are and why this is actually a big deal. I think it could be a stumbling block for Tesla in the near term, but actually I think it indicates just how far ahead they are.

PANDEY: After days of online abuse, Cummings deleted her account. But she went on to occupy the role. We reached out to Cummings for an interview and she declined, citing government policy.

ROSENBERG: There's this thing called brigading online and, basically, it happens when someone with a huge following gestures in the direction of an individual without explicitly saying, like, all of you people should go attack this person, but sort of giving permission for the crowd.

To act like a mob and to take things to extremes, whether that's looking up the person's street address, looking up their phone number, calling their phone number, showing up at their house, calling the police on their house and so forth — where the original comment by this leader online gets translated into actual danger for the person being targeted.

Elon Musk's tweets

PANDEY: Musk doesn’t just make jokes on Twitter. He uses the platform as a megaphone for his beliefs, even those that motivate his personal life. Musk has nine children. He says he’s concerned that people aren’t having enough babies and that it could lead to societal collapse.

When news broke about him having twins with an executive at Neuralink, one of his own companies, Musk’s response was this:

@elonmusk: Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis.

PANDEY: The overall effect of his Twitter: It’s like this middling/pedestrian comedy account that’s — surprise! — run by one of the most powerful men in the world.

ROSENBERG: There's always a guy at a party who likes to tell jokes and who comes and tells jokes and everybody is kind of a little bit appalled but deals with it and laughs politely. If that person at the party is like one of the richest people in the world, then maybe they actually laugh really heartily because they’re trying to get in good with him in some way.

PANDEY: This unfiltered persona on social media has called Musk’s character into question. But it’s also won him a lot of genuine fans. He met his on-again-off-again partner, the musician Grimes, through a joke he supposedly almost made on Twitter, then realized she’d already made it.

Musk will also regularly respond to Tesla customers and SpaceX fans with earnest messages about how hard he and his team are working to fix or deliver something. This appearance of accessibility has earned him an enormous following of devoted defenders.

PRIMACK: Elon is very good at understanding his customers and getting them to be not just customers, but fans, fans of his companies and fans of him. Elon has an army of followers. all the kind of trolls who follow him under the bridge.

LORA KOLODNY: Tesla has built this fan base and it's an absolute political asset.

PANDEY: Lora Kolodny is a tech reporter for CNBC who focuses on Tesla. She’s reported a lot of scoops on Tesla over the years, and she’s seen how Musk’s following rushes to his and Tesla’s defense time and again, not just online, but in person.

KOLODNY: Where they say, like, “Hey, Tesla fans and investors, if you own a Tesla, you might be interested in these kinds of legislative issues that are bubbling up locally.” And they'll galvanize theri fans. “Hey, show up at city hall for this thing, or write a letter to your representatives or something.” And they have this absolute political asset in the fan base.

PANDEY: If this sounds to you a lot like someone else, you’re not the only one thinking that.

KOLODNY: So when you cover this beat for a while, a couple things come up: comparisons to Elon include he's the tech Kardashian or the tech Trump ...

PANDEY: Both former President Trump and Musk were once major Democratic donors. Trump then became the Republican Party and Musk evolved into a Republican and Libertarian darling because of comments like this one

MUSK ARCHIVAL: California's gone from the land of opportunity to the land of sort of taxes, overregulation and litigation.

PANDEY: This is from his “All-In” podcast appearance in May of this year ...

MUSK ARCHIVAL: If you had a gun to Gavin's head, OK, and said, “ We need to build, stop building, this factory in California right now,” he couldn't do it because there are so many regulatory agencies, and so many litigators in California that wanna stop you from doing anything that, even if you're the governor of the, of the state, you cannot get it done.

PANDEY: He also talked about his evolving views directly in that interview.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I would classify myself as a moderate, and neither Republican nor Democrat. And, in fact, I voted overwhelmingly for Democrats historically. Overwhelmingly. Like, I'm not sure, I might never have voted … Republican. Just to be clear, right now, now, this election, I would. I will.

Elon Musk and the SEC

PANDEY: Back when Trump had access to Twitter, both Trump and Musk tweeted constantly. And they’ve shaped reality with those tweets — Trump by using Twitter to dictate policy as president, Musk by setting his company’s priorities and even changing their financial fates.

At one point, in August 2018, Musk tweeted.

@elonmusk: Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.

PANDEY: Wall Street was stunned. Tesla shares went haywire. They spiked and then crashed.

SPEAKER ON CNBC: Shares of Tesla, they're down since CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he wanted to take the company private.

SPEAKER ON BLOOMBERG: …why it was communicated in the way that it was communicated and what it really means.

SPEAKER ON CNBC: Frankly, I'm kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing.

PANDEY: The SEC brought a charge of securities fraud against Musk, accusing him of making a series of false and misleading tweets that “caused Tesla’s stock price to jump by over six percent” and “led to significant market disruption.”

They ultimately settled, and Musk and Tesla each had to pay $20 million in penalties. But Musk would neither admit nor deny misleading investors. That winter, he told “60 Minutes”:

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I wanna be clear, I do not respect the SEC. I do not respect them.

SPEAKER ON 60 MINUTES: But you're abiding by the settlement, aren't you?

MUSK ARCHIVAL: Because I respect the justice system.

PANDEY: Here’s how Musk reflected back on the settlement, at the Ted 2022 conference earlier this year.

MUSK ARCHIVAL: I was told by the banks that if I did not agree to settle with the SEC that they would, the banks would cease providing working capital and Tesla would go bankrupt immediately. So that's like having a gun to your child's head.

PANDEY: He hasn’t only sent his own companies on rollercoaster rides with his tweets.

Like this past April, when he tweeted he wanted to buy Twitter.

The $44 billion tweet

SPEAKER ON CNN: He's offering more than 40 billion to buy the company. He's offered $54 a share.

SPEAKER ON MSNBC: But the question is. What's he gonna do with it? Twitter as a company, as a stock has massively underperformed. That is not a secret.

PANDEY: Musk’s tweet, offering to take Twitter private for $44 billion, priced the platform far above market value. Twitter’s share price jumped on the news.

The Tweet also made a splash in Musk’s circles.

HOFFMAN: I read the Tweet. And I think I had the reaction of most people. It was, like, oh my God, another huge problem. He's already dealing with a large number.

PANDEY: Other people close to Musk, who declined to speak to Axios on the record while the legal proceedings unfold, said they were concerned that, with Twitter, even Musk might be biting off more than he could chew.

HOFFMAN: After that was the thought of: Well, you know, I was one of the people who thought you couldn't do both Tesla and SpaceX, and clearly was wrong.

And then started texting it out to friends of mine saying: This could change the world. What do you think the plan is? Including to Elon saying, okay, this is a big deal.

PANDEY: The deal started moving ahead. But, a month in, Musk announced it was on hold.

SPEAKER ON CNN: And now there's an incredible amount of uncertainty about the future of Twitter, because Musk seems to be trying to back out.

PANDEY: A couple weeks after Musk tweeted that he wanted to buy Twitter, when the deal still seemed to be moving forward, he gave us another one of his signature jokes.

@elonmusk: Next I’m buying Coca-Cola to put the cocaine back in

Musk-Twitter saga

PANDEY: Everyone on Twitter watching the Musk-Twitter saga play out was in on the joke. That’s the most-liked tweet of all time, 4.8 million likes.

But that’s part of Musk’s problem with the platform, actually. He thinks the number seems low and that it suggests that many, many users are not actual people, but fake accounts, called bots …

MUSK ARCHIVAL: Twitter says that the daily, the sort of monetizable daily active users is 217 million. So why would it be that the most popular tweet ever basically is only, you know, two, two and a half percent of the entire user base. This seems a very, very low number.

PANDEY: Now his case for getting out of the merger agreement hinges on whether he can prove Twitter misled him about the number of real users vs. fake accounts. Musk and Twitter are set to face off in court this fall over whether he will be forced to go through with the merger.

With the deal hanging in the balance, it's more important than ever to understand how he runs his companies, how he might change Twitter, and what his vision for free speech means for us all.

We'll have more on all of this on “How it Happened: Elon Musk v. Twitter.”

CREDITS

I’m Erica Pandey. Amy Pedulla is reporter-producer. Naomi Shavin is senior producer. This series was reported by the Axios newsroom, including Dan Primack, Miriam Kramer, Joann Muller, Javier E. David, Jonathan Swan, Sara Fischer, Ina Fried, Hope King, and me. Fact-checking by Jacob Knutson. Zach Basu is reading Elon Musk’s tweets.

Scott Rosenberg and Alison Snyder are series editors. Sara Kehaulani Goo is the editor-in-chief and executive producer. Mixing and sound design by Ben O'Brien. Music supervision by Alex Sugiura. Theme music and original score by Michael Hanf.

Special thanks to Axios co-founders Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz. And thanks to Lucia Orejarena, Priyanka Vora and Brian Westley. If you’re enjoying the season so far, please take a moment to rate and review the show. We’ll be back soon. Thanks for listening.

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