Among the proclamations made by Elon Musk after he announced that he intended to purchase Twitter was his desire to rid the platform of "the spam bots.” But in an announcement this Monday, Musk said he can't go through with the purchase "unless the social media giant can prove bots make up fewer than 5% of its users," as Bloomberg reported.
The chief of SpaceX as well as Tesla, Musk is currently listed by Forbes as the world's wealthiest person, with a fortune of about $230 billion, much of it in Tesla stock.
Seen by his champions as an iconoclastic genius and by his critics as an erratic megalomaniac, Musk surprised many investors in April with news that he wanted to purchase Twitter.
But his $44 billion bid for Twitter is now "temporarily on hold," pending questions over the social media company's estimates of the number of fake accounts.
Writing in Bloomberg this Tuesday, opinion columnist Matt Levine says Musk is "lying."
"The spam bots are not why he is backing away from the deal, as you can tell from the fact that the spam bots are why he did the deal. He has produced no evidence at all that Twitter’s estimates are wrong, and certainly not that they are materially wrong or made in bad faith," Levine writes, adding that Musk's method for counting spam bots is "laughable."
"More important, nothing has changed about the bot problem since Musk signed the merger agreement. Twitter has published the same qualified estimate — that fewer than 5% of monetizable accounts are fake — for the last eight years," writes Levine. "Musk knew those estimates, and declined to do any nonpublic due diligence before signing the merger agreement."
Levine points out that tech stocks have gone down, as well as the stock value of Tesla, which he was relying on to finance part of the Twitter purchase. According to Levine, Musk is "angling to reprice the deal for straightforward market reasons" but the merger agreement that he signed doesn't allow him to get out just because stocks went down.
"Twitter accepted Musk’s offer, and three weeks later, he said 'ha no I was kidding, psych!' And it is catastrophic."
Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal has said the platform suspends more than a half-million seemingly bogus accounts daily, usually before they are even seen, and locks millions more weekly that fail checks to make sure they are controlled by humans and not by software.
Internal measures show that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are spam, but that analysis can't be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private, Agrawal contended.
Musk, who has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform, responded to that tweet by Agrawal with a poo emoji.
With additional reporting by AFP