Nov 8, 2022 - Economy

Elon Musk's acquisition exceptionalism

Twitter shatter

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios 

All corporate acquisitions are at least a little messy. But what's happening at Twitter is in a class by itself.

Why it matters: Elon Musk risks setting fire to $44 billion, plus to a social media platform that's become central to global discourse.

  • Most of that money belongs to Musk, but a lot of it comes from Wall Street banks, fellow billionaires, mutual funds and venture capital funds whose own investors include charitable foundations and university endowments.

The big picture: We knew that Musk didn't conduct due diligence before offering to buy Twitter, and that he hadn't thought too deeply about thorny content moderation issues. What we didn't know was that, as the months and lawsuits dragged on, he wasn't laying the groundwork for ownership.

  • There are no new C-suite executives beyond Musk. There is no board of directors. There are no named members of a new content moderation council, and thus no new content moderation rules. There is no good reason that at least some of these people aren't already in place.
  • Musk hasn't held an all-hands meeting to share his vision or any other information with Twitter employees, although some were scheduled and then cancelled. Not even with the 50% of workers that he didn't fire, or those who he did fire but who've already been asked back.
  • He spent months complaining about bots and spam, but then rushed to launch a more expensive subscription service that would automatically grant verification checkmarks without actually verifying user identities. And then delayed the launch, even though some people had already paid.
  • Brand marketers got worried about how the chaos might bleed into what users see around their advertisements, leading to a "massive drop in revenue." Musk did try to calm their fears, both in person and via tweets, but quickly grew impatient and threatened to go "thermonuclear" on his own customers.

Backstory: Yes, Musk wanted out of the deal and operates within at least a partial reality distortion field (arguably a justified one, per his Tesla and SpaceX successes).

  • But sources also say that Musk was aware the legal odds were against him, meaning that the likeliest outcome was his present predicament.
  • In other words, he had every reason and opportunity to prepare. Like any other acquirer would do. Instead, he chose to wing it, and then claim shock and ambush when things went sideways.

The bottom line: Elon Musk is still early in the first inning of owning Twitter, but he's already down a few runs.

Go deeper