Tesla founder and would-be owner of Twitter Elon Musk has announced that his takeover was being held pending an investigation into how many of the platform’s users are bots.
Twitter’s latest estimate from its last earnings report estimated that it had reduced the proportion of bots to no more than 5% of the overall userbase, a figure Musk is now disputing.
What Musk’s new investigation seeks to uncover is unknown but, in light of the recent collapse in crypto prices and the need to protect his Tesla stock, it has been speculated that he will use any findings to justify pulling out of the deal or use the resulting uncertainty to reduce the price of the deal.
He stands to lose around $1bn from abandoning the purchase – but that is small fry compared to his offered $44bn.
It came less than a day after more turbulence within Twitter. The platform’s long-term consumer product lead Kayvon Beykpour announced he had been fired by chief executive officer Parag Agawaral.
Bruce Falck, the general manager of revenue and head of product for its business side, then confirmed in a tweet – since deleted – that he was also fired by Agrawal. Falck previously served in senior roles at Google and programmatic video advertising firm BrightRoll prior to joining Twitter.
At Twitter, Falck was the lead on building out its programmatic advertising offering.
The justification from Agrawal appears to be that Twitter is seeking to move in a ‘different direction’ – albeit one that involves a hiring freeze and a leadership shake-up. A leaked memo from Agrawal obtained by The Verge states that: “At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the decision was made to invest aggressively to deliver big growth in audience and revenue, and as a company we did not hit intermediate milestones that enable confidence in these goals.
“And, of course, we are in the middle of an acquisition and we don’t yet know the timing of the close. In order to responsibly manage the organization as we sharpen our roadmaps and our work, we need to continue to be intentional about our teams, hiring and costs.”
The social media platform is seen as being in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Musk’s takeover would provide a new direction for the company, albeit one that has advertisers wary of a potential toxic environment. The billionaire, who has no direct experience of content moderation beyond seeking to quash speech unfavorable to him, has been cited as being out of his depth.
It’s like watching a baby play with a blender from behind a plexiglass barrier.
It’s like watching a baby play with a blender from behind a plexiglass barrier.— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) May 11, 2022
Meanwhile, despite announcing a raft of advertising products and content partnerships at the Newfronts, Twitter is in the unenviable position of having to justify itself to brands. The uncertainty surrounding a new leadership team and Musk potentially pulling out of the deal only compounds those issues.