A treasure trove of text messages from Elon Musk was released this week as part of a lawsuit Twitter has filed against the billionaire, and it turns out to be an illuminating look at conversations between Musk and a who’s who of celebrities, from journalists, Silicon Valley elites and even politicians.
Some of the very rich and very famous who have a direct line to the Tesla CEO include Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, podcaster Joe Rogan and journalist Gayle King. In the texts, ultra-wealthy investors casually offer billions of dollars to help Musk’s effort. Their sheer enthusiasm for Musk’s attempt to take over Twitter also confirms what many have long suspected of billionaires’ interest in owning media companies: They are acutely aware that controlling a company like Twitter means being able to shape stories and exert influence.
Some, like Rogan, welcomed Musk’s offer to buy the social media platform. On April 4, when Musk announced a 9% stake in Twitter but hadn’t yet made an offer to buy it, Rogan asked, “Are you going to free Twitter from the happy censorship mob?” Weeks later, on April 23, Rogan texted, “I REALLY hope you have Twitter.”
Many of those who texted Musk echoed his public comments arguing the importance of free speech on Twitter. Musk took issue with the more proactive approach to content moderation that Twitter has taken in recent years — policies that right-wing Twitter users have decried as discriminatory, especially in light of Trump’s permanent suspension of Twitter in January. 2021.
Days after it was announced that Twitter’s board had accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer, Benioff, who is currently worth more than $6 billion, sent Musk a cryptic text about his own vision. of the platform, writing on April 27: “Happy to talk about if it’s interesting: the conversational operating system Twitter, the place of your digital life.
Musk balked, saying, “Well, I don’t own it yet.”
The potential for power and influence on Twitter has also attracted politicians and the media. The messages reveal former Republican Rep. Justin Amash wanted to speak to Musk, offering his help on “how to handle speaking and moderation.” According to a text message from Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — widely seen as a potential GOP nominee for the 2024 presidential race — has thrown his support behind Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Lonsdale floated the idea of having Musk and DeSantis chat.
Other acquaintances, like Hoffman, have discussed helping Musk buy Twitter. “2 billion dollars? Musk floated, after Hoffman asked how much he and his VC partners could invest.
“Great. Probably doable,” replied Hoffman, who ultimately did not invest in the deal.
The posts were revealed in court as part of the pretrial discovery process in Twitter’s breach of contract lawsuit against Musk, filed after Musk walked out of the deal to buy Twitter in July. claiming that the company had misled him about the number of spambots. and fake accounts on its platform. Twitter, for its part, argues that Musk reneged on the deal not because of the bots but because of a drop in Tesla and Twitter stock. The trial is scheduled to begin October 17 in the Delaware Chancery Court.
The texts reveal that in the weeks after Musk signed the Twitter deal in late April, professing his desire to protect free speech on the platform, his friends and associates eagerly offered (sometimes unsolicited) advice. on the direction Twitter should take with Musk at the helm. . A person identified as BL Lee – it’s unclear who that is – has suggested Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist of Uber fame, be named CEO of Twitter. At one point, Musk’s texts broadcast journalist Gayle King, “maybe Oprah would be interested in joining Twitter’s board if my bid is successful.”
Several people have sought to introduce themselves to others in hopes of getting Musk’s ear. Among those most determined to meet Musk was billionaire philanthropist Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
The initial volley came from Will MacAskill, an Oxford philosopher and one of the founders of the effective altruism movement, whose ideas according to Musk align closely with his. MacAskill revealed that Bankman-Fried had been interested in buying Twitter for some time and was interested in a “possible joint effort.”
“Does he have huge sums of money?” Musk asked.
“It depends how you define ‘huge’!” Mac Askill replied “He’s worth $24 billion, and his early employees (with shared values) bump that up to $30 billion.” Musk, the richest person in the world, is currently worth around $252 billion, according to Forbes.
Several of the text conversations between Musk and his associates point in that direction. Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who contributed $1 billion to the Twitter deal, tells Musk in a text that he’s willing to commit “anything you recommend.”
Bankman-Fried, also a proponent of effective altruism, has already tweeted about how a decentralized Twitter that lives on the blockchain could work and how it could be monetized. In recent years, he has also become a major Democratic donor and has lobbied Washington for changes in cryptocurrency regulation.
MacAskill, the philosopher, pointed out to Musk that it would be “easy” for Bankman-Fried to throw away $1 billion to $3 billion – or even contribute up to $15 billion, but that might require funding.
While the billionaires in Musk’s texts showed nothing but enthusiasm for his offer, many others – including Twitter users and free speech advocates – expressed distrust, even outrage. worry. Twitter is a platform used by hundreds of millions of users – although Musk may dispute that – and, in particular, is used by journalists to share and discuss the day’s news. For them, the prospect of a Twitter run by an outspoken billionaire and frequent critic of the media and journalists was cause for concern.
But some media moguls did not dismiss the idea out of hand. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of German media group Axel Springer, which owns outlets including Business Insider and Politico, even offered to run Twitter for Musk if he bought it. “It would be a real contribution to democracy,” Döpfner emailed in late March, weeks before Musk made an offer to buy the site.
Even the Murdochs, descendants of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, make an appearance in the texts. On April 26, James Murdoch – Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son and Tesla board director – told Musk he would call “when some of the dust has settled.” His wife, Kathryn Murdoch, a philanthropist and activist whose politics differ from those of her stepfather, asked Musk if he would bring back Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who left the company in 2021 to focus on other projects. “Jack doesn’t want to come back,” Musk replied. Dorsey, however, exchanged several text messages with Musk about their shared vision for an improved Twitter.
These behind-the-scenes exchanges reveal how quick and easy it is for a relatively small circle of wealthy elites to throw in billions to help buy a public company that is used by hundreds of millions and serves as a place where individuals come together to find community around common hobbies, beliefs or goals. It is a powerful tool for delivering news and information. The billionaires’ interest in helping buy Twitter wasn’t just to want a slice of the equity pie. The texts suggest that, for many in Musk’s elite circle, it was important to have a say in what Twitter would look like in the future – a ‘free-speech’ public square where they will continue. to have the biggest megaphones.
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