Elon Musk's Twitter texts, condensed for advertisers

Here are the billionaire's private deliberations that led to his attempt to buy Twitter and then back out.

Elon Musk's Twitter texts, condensed for advertisers

A trove of Elon Musk’s text messages now provides an intimate look into the billionaire’s inner circle as he pursued Twitter earlier this year. The personal messages were released this week as part of Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk, and they delve into topics that Twitter advertisers are watching closely, including issues related to moderation and content that speak to “brand safety” on the service.

The texts, sent from January through May, are a “who’s who” list of Musk’s closest advisors. Joe Rogan, the podcaster and comedian, and Justin Roiland, co-creator of “Rick and Morty,” encouraged Musk in his crusade to fix Twitter. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Tesla board member Antonio Gracias, prominent tech investor Jason Calacanis, Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner and other prominent voices reached out to Musk over the months, too.

The messages show that Musk and friends were fed up with Twitter’s moderation policies, the kind that led to the banning of former President Donald Trump and sparked an outcry from conservative circles. In one message, Musk said, “what we have right now is hidden corruption,” referring to how Twitter controls political speech.

The messages take readers on a twisty journey, from Musk’s initial enthusiasm to buy Twitter to his plan to renege. Musk’s reversal has led to an odd predicament: Twitter is suing him to make good on the $44 billion offer. Plus, advertisers have concerns about how Musk would shake up the service. Musk’s text messages shine a light on Twitter’s internal turmoil during this ordeal.

Here is a look at Musk’s private messages that sum up the issues of the case, which is set to come to a head next month in court.

On political speech

Musk discusses with a number of friends how he views the free speech battle on Twitter. After taking a 9% stake in the company in April, Musk mulls joining the board to change the platform’s policies. He later sends a text to Twitter execs saying he will simply buy the company and take it private.

Twitter’s political policies are deeply entwined with how advertisers view the platform. Some brands are worried about how marketing comes across alongside heated political discourse. Other brands have taken more active roles in the public conversation and they use Twitter for socially conscious messaging.

Musk and associates were concerned that the social media pendulum had swung against free speech, silencing certain viewpoints. For instance, on March 5, Musk was energized by an EU law that banned Russia Today and other Russian state-run media channels: “I find their news quite entertaining. Lot of bullshit, but some good points too,” Musk texted his close associate Gracias. The two agreed that “free speech” must be defended at all costs. “To the fucking mattresses no matter what,” Gracias told Musk.

On the same day, someone texted Musk about how Twitter suspended conservative satirical news site Babylon Bee. “I honestly think social media is the scourge of modern life, and the worst of all is Twitter ... it’s very easy to exploit and is being used by radicals for social engineering on a massive scale ... Please, do something to fight woke-ism,” the message to Musk said. The sender was only identified as “TJ” in the court docs, with the full name redacted. “Can you buy Twitter and then delete it,” TJ said.

Minutes later, investor Jon Lonsdale texted Musk about the need to fight “arbitrary sketchy censorship,” and said he would share Musk's message with 100 GOP politicians at an upcoming policy retreat.

Musk responds: “What we have right now is hidden corruption,” in the reference to censorship online.

In April, after Musk took his 9% position in Twitter, he received a message saying: “It will be a delicate game of letting right-wingers back on Twitter and how to navigate that (especially the boss himself, if you’re up for that.)” The sender’s name was redacted and there has been speculation the person was potentially advocating to unban Trump.

Rogan messaged Musk on April 4: “Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?”

On Twitter bots

The bot question is central to Musk’s case against Twitter, as he claimed that the number of fake accounts was greater than Twitter has disclosed publicly. Not everyone buys his excuse, and Twitter has defended its accounting of bots. The fake accounts make up 5% of the monetizable daily users, which Twitter identifies as the people who are eligible to receive ads daily on the platform. Twitter had 237.8 million monetizable users, according to its second-quarter financial report.

Bots have become an advertiser issue in recent months, the more that Musk has made noise about them. Advertisers do worry about how bots affect the conversation, causing fake trends to rise and generally degrading the quality of the platform. Musk’s text messages seem to show he fully appreciated the potential for bots on Twitter, even though he now wants to use them as a deal-breaker.

On April 9, Musk had a split with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who had been slightly optimistic about Musk’s plans to join the board. Musk tells Agrawal in a seemingly rash exchange that he won’t be joining the board: “This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private,” Musk writes.

Then Musk messages Bret Taylor, Salesforce co-CEO and Twitter’s chairman: "Fixing Twitter by chatting with Parag won’t work,” Musk writes Taylor. “Drastic action is needed. This is hard to do as a public company, as purging fake users will make the numbers look terrible, so restructuring should be done as a private company.”

On May 8, Musk starts backpedaling on the $44 billion deal he signed in April to buy Twitter. He texts Morgan Stanley banker Michael Grimes: “Let’s slow down just a few days.” The first reason given was not bots, but Russia’s war against Ukraine: “It won’t make sense to buy Twitter if we’re headed into WWIII,” Musk writes.

Later in the exchange, Musk mentions bots: “If that number [Twitter bot accounts] is more like 50% or lower, which is what I would guess based on my feed, then they have been fundamentally misrepresenting the value of Twitter to advertisers and investors,” Musk writes.

On Twitter turmoil

It is clear Twitter has struggled during the Musk fight. Agrawal went from trying to work with Musk to sharing serious concerns about how he was affecting the company and its workers. On April 4, Agrawal sent a congratulatory message publicly welcoming Musk to the Twitter board, before that plan disintegrated.

By April 9, Agrawal privately messaged Musk: You are free to tweet “is Twitter dying” or anything else about Twitter, but it’s my responsibility to tell you that it’s not helping me make Twitter better in the current context. Next time we speak, I’d like to provide you perspective on the level  of internal distraction right now and how it’s hurting our ability to do work.”

Musk responds: “What did you get done this week?” And then says he will buy Twitter.