The world’s richest person Elon Musk will buy Twitter for about $44 billion (over Rs 3,36,910 crore), the microblogging platform announced in a regulatory filing on Monday.
Twitter said that the deal was unanimously approved by its board of directors and is expected to close in 2022, pending regulatory clearance and the approval of shareholders.
The development came weeks after Musk declared a 9.2% stake in Twitter, which made him the biggest shareholder in the company on April 4. However, on April 11, Musk, the chief executive officer of electric vehicle company Tesla, decided not to join Twitter’s board of directors.
On completion of the transaction between Musk and Twitter, the social media firm will become a privately held company, the filing said. This means that the company would no longer be listed or traded on a public stock exchange. Twitter also will not have to report financial information to the markets regulator Security and Exchange Commission, or follow many of its rules.
After the acquisition was confirmed, Musk said that he wanted to make Twitter “better than ever” by introducing new features, making its algorithms open source, deleting spam accounts and authenticating human users.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said.
Don’t know which direction Twitter will go: CEO
Twitter Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal on Monday said that the social media platform had a purpose and relevance that impacted the entire world.
“Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important,” he wrote in a tweet.
He also expressed uncertainty about the future of the platform once the transaction with Musk is completed, according to Reuters. During a town hall meeting, employees reportedly asked him whether former United States President Donald Trump would be permitted to return to Twitter once the acquisition is complete.
In January last year, Twitter had “permanently suspended” Trump after his supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC and clashed with police in the aftermath of his defeat in the presidential elections.
“Once the deal closes, we don’t know which direction the platform will go,” Agarwal said on Monday. “I believe when we have an opportunity to speak with Elon, it’s a question we should address with him.”
Nevertheless, shares of Twitter rose more than 5% after the company agreed to Musk’s buyout deal, Forbes reported.
On April 16, Twitter had said that its board of directors had unanimously decided to adopt a “poison pill” strategy after Musk offered to buy the platform.
A poison pill defense strategy, officially known as the shareholder rights plan, allows existing shareholders to purchase additional shares in a company at a discount. It makes the buyout costly for the other party, effectively diluting its ownership interest. The mechanism, developed in the 1980s, is commonly adopted by companies in hostile takeover situations.
Human rights groups flag hate speech concerns
In the past, Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and said that he did not believe Twitter was living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.
On Sunday, he said that he hoped that even his worst critics remain on the platform, because “that is what free speech means”.
However, human rights activists and digital rights experts have expressed concern that such a stance could mean that the platform might allow greater leeway to hate speech and misinformation, which may have an impact on offline violence.
Deborah Brown, a digital rights researcher at non-government organisation Human Rights Watch, said that freedom of expression was not an “absolute right” and that Twitter needed to make efforts to keep vulnerable users safe.
“Regardless of who owns Twitter, the company has human rights responsibilities to respect the rights of people around the world who rely on the platform,” she said. “Changes to its policies, features, and algorithms, big and small, can have disproportionate and sometimes devastating impacts, including offline violence.”
United States-based civil rights organisation National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged Musk not to allow Trump to return to the platform. “Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy,” it said.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki on Sunday declined to make a specific comment on the acquisition of Twitter. However, she said that United States President Joe Biden has long been concerned “about the power that large social platforms have over our everyday lives” and has argued that they must be held accountable for the harms that they cause.