In a strange turn of events, I find myself writing about the poop emoji for the second time this year. But, this is less about tongue-in-cheek product advertising and more about a multi-billion dollar maverick making everyone (himself included) look like absolute fools.
Ever since Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter at $54.20 a share was announced on April 25, it has rapidly descended into a pantomime. One that has been played out in a “public town square,” filled with a cast of jesters and villains, each trying to outmaneuver the other with counter tweet after counter tweet. Unfortunately, the heroes of this story — the employees who’ve tried to carry on or those who quit in protest at the thought of a reckless billionaire throwing their work out the window — have been relegated to bit-part background roles, barely noticed amongst the drama taking front and center stage. The star of this car crash performance is, without question, Elon Musk.
From the minute the deal was made public, it’s been chaos.
There have been punches thrown at current management and employees, most notably at Twitter’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, who Musk accused of perpetuating what he views as liberal bias at the company. It led to his army of fans (read: trolls) harassing Gadde using sexist and racial slurs. The tweet itself went against a stipulation in the deal that stated Musk must not “disparage the company or any of its representatives.” Oh well. One rule for all, another for the rich, right?
There’s been endless talk about “free speech” from a man who tweets every brain fart he has without a second thought (remember the Pedo guy tweet? Or his Bernie Saunders tweet?) and without repercussion. There have been tweets — and memes, of course — about leftist propaganda, despite Twitter’s own research showing the platform amplifies right-leaning political content more than left-leaning.
Last week, current CEO Parag Agrawal fired two of Twitter’s well-regarded executives. When questioned about why a “lame-duck CEO” would make these decisions, he touted something about the future of Twitter, regardless of the takeover deal. (Yesterday, May 17, three other executives sprinted for the exit door.)
But nothing quite prepared us for the closing act, when Musk threw in a poop-emoji-shaped bomb on the whole deal.
On May 16, Agrawal attempted to be transparent about spam and bots on Twitter after doubts arose about the actual number active on the platform. He opened up on how the company tracks, deals with and counts these accounts. His insight was thoughtful — and likely correct and accurate. In reply, Musk finally showed his maturity with equally thoughtful insight.
A day later, Musk followed up, saying that until Twitter’s CEO could show proof that the total number of bots and spam accounts was <5%, “this deal cannot move forward.”
Quite the plot twist.
So, it begs the question, is it really about bots?
No, it’s not.
Firstly, for a man driven by being in the spotlight, with an ego tickled by influence, removing every bot/spam account would see his following number drop faster than the Tesla stock post Twitter deal. Secondly, the 5% estimate is nothing new. Twitter has used the number for many years and publicly disclosed so, and Musk chose to do no non-public due diligence before agreeing to buy Twitter. So he signed the terms knowing the data presented. One suspects even proving that the 5% is accurate would do little. As Matt Levine wrote in a brilliant article for Bloomberg,
“Twitter could get all 229 million of its monetizable daily active users in a room and have them say “hello Elon, we are real,” and that would not convince him, because he does not want to be convinced. He wants to pay a lower price.”
And that is the only logical conclusion to this poop play. Musk wants to get the company at a lower price, one more reflective of the current market downturn. (It’s important to consider that it will cost Musk $1 billion to exit the deal.) Wanting to knock a few digits off the price tag makes sense; in the three weeks since the deal was announced, tech stocks have continued to fall. Twitter’s stock price is currently $38.32, a nearly 30% drop from the agreed sale price (47.75% down from its 52-week high.)
Whether a dropdown price is possible is up for debate. Regarding the terms of the deal, it shouldn’t be. But when you’re a tech company languishing and in desperate need of direction, and you have the wealthiest man in the world threatening to leave your doorstep, there is every chance the Twitter board will sit down for more negotiations.
Is that the right move for Twitter? Probably not. But what is? I’d love to see them boot Elon off the platform, just as a childish act of revenge. But that won’t happen either.
To borrow from Levine once more, “arguably Twitter’s best option is to do nothing. The basic problem with Musk, for Twitter, is that he changes his mind a lot. Maybe he’ll change it again.” So basically, Twitter’s best play is to hope that’s the last time they see the poop-emoji and that Elon once again commits to buying the company at the initially agreed price. And for us, the public, and for investors, platform users, Twitter employees, and everyone sick of seeing Musk’s name plastered everywhere (including this article), we can continue to hope for the curtains to close on this whole shit show.