Elon Musk has fueled speculation that he may seek to renegotiate his takeover of Twitter Inc., saying a viable deal at a lower price would not be “out of the question”.
Shares of Twitter fell 8.2% at the close of trading in New York. The stock fell on speculation that Musk may walk away from the $44 billion acquisition. That concern grew over the past week as Musk questioned publicly disclosed data from Twitter about the percentage of spam and fake accounts on its social media service.
Musk pushed that front further on Monday at a tech conference in Miami, estimating that fake users make up at least 20% of all Twitter accounts. That was the low end of his estimate of the number of bots on the network, and he rhetorically asked if he could hit 90%, according to a live video of his remarks posted by a Twitter user.
“Currently what I’m being told is that there’s just no way to know the number of bots,” Musk told the conference. “It’s like, as unknowable as the human soul.”
Twitter declined to comment. The San Francisco-based company reports quarterly that spam accounts make up less than 5% of total users.
Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, said last week that his bid to buy Twitter was “temporarily suspended” pending details on the number of spam and fake accounts on the platform. Over the weekend, he tweeted that he planned to do his own analysis of Twitter’s user base using a random sample of 100 user accounts. Shortly after, Musk claimed Twitter’s legal team called to complain about violating their nondisclosure agreement by publicly sharing the company’s methodology.
Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal disputed this Monday in a tweet thread that offered more details about the company’s approach to spam accounts. Agrawal said Twitter manually checks thousands of accounts each quarter to determine how many should be counted as spam, but added that the process could not be conducted externally due to user privacy concerns.
Agrawal said Twitter “shared a preview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago.” Musk responded to the CEO’s tweet thread by first asking why Twitter doesn’t just call users to verify their identities, then posting a poo emoji.
Musk spoke at a conference hosted by a podcast called “All-In” led by Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, David Sacks and David Friedberg. The $7,500-per-person event was sold out, and organizers said journalists were not allowed to attend. Musk appeared at the Miami summit via video conference.
The 50-year-old billionaire started buying Twitter shares in January and disclosed a 9.2% stake in the company on April 4. Twitter’s board accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer to buy the company and take it private on April 25, but the deal is months away from closing, and Twitter shares are trading well below the offer price.
The gap between Musk’s $54.20 per share offer and Twitter’s stock price continues to widen, wiping out any gains the stock has made since Elon Musk disclosed his stake in the social media platform.