Twitter is suing Elon Musk, who has canceled his plan to buy the company. The complaint refers to a series of provocative tweets from the billionaire.
The Musk/Twitter case may be in its infancy. After the businessman put an end to his plan to take over the social network, the latter decided to sue him. The company, which believes to have been destabilized by this aborted takeover, saw its share price fall in a few weeks. Twitter’s complaint against Elon Musk refers to a series of tweets published by the latter, deemed problematic or denigrating the company. Billions of dollars in damages are at stake.
To justify his withdrawal, Elon Musk evokes the problem of fake accounts on Twitter, behind which robots often hide. This subject is today the only element put forward by Musk. He believes that Twitter is not transparent about the proportion of these fake accounts, which harm the user experience. Financially, these fake accounts represent an essential issue: social networks are remunerated through advertising that is displayed to real users. Fake accounts, which are included in the statistics of the number of users communicated to investors, are therefore all accounts that cannot really be monetized.
Defeat the bots or die
In its complaint (accessible here), Twitter seeks to show that the issue of fake accounts is only a pretext used by Elon Musk to withdraw, and that the latter is in fact seeking to cancel the agreement due to the strong fall in the financial markets and in the Tesla stock, on which his fortune directly depends.
Twitter intends to show that the businessman had fully taken the measure of this question before committing. The company quotes a tweet from Elon Musk dated April 21, a few days before the signing of the agreement (April 25, 2022), in which he clearly raises the issue of fake accounts.
“If our offer is successful, we will defeat spam and bots (robots used to drive fake accounts, editor’s note), or die trying!”, promised Elon Musk.
The document mentions another message, this time published on May 13, in which Elon Musk announces that he is “pausing” his takeover project. An announcement which, according to Twitter, was made without any prior consultation. The tweet refers to the figure of 5% fake accounts, a public estimate shared by Twitter, which however is nothing new: it has been in all company documents for eight years.
“The takeover of Twitter is temporarily suspended pending details regarding the estimate of fake accounts, according to which they represent less than 5% of users”, writes Elon Musk.
Sample of 100 users
The complaint refers to a message, also published on May 13 (May 14 at French time), in which Elon Musk announces that he wants to assess the number of fake accounts on Twitter based on a sample of 100 users. A figure that may seem derisory and unrepresentative, which he nevertheless presents as the sample used by the platform to perform its calculations.
“I used a sample of 100 users because that’s what Twitter uses to calculate its 5% ratio of fake accounts,” says Elon Musk.
For Twitter, this message corresponds to “a distorted presentation” of the methodology used to determine the percentage of fake accounts. The company assures in its complaint that a two-hour meeting was organized with Elon Musk (before the publication of his tweet), during which it was explained to him that this figure of 5% was actually calculated manually at from a sample of approximately 9,000 accounts, each quarter.
The complaint also echoes a mockery from Elon Musk regarding the details of Twitter boss Parag Agrawal. On May 16, the latter indeed detailed on the platform the methodology used and the data analyzed to determine if the account is indeed held by a human (telephone number, geolocation, behavior, etc.). An attempt at an explanation to which the American billionaire responded with a simple emoji representing a poop.
If this humorous trait may seem anecdotal, it is described as “unpleasant” by the company, which recalls that the agreement signed between the two parties committed them to avoid any denigration.
A “non-disparagement” agreement which was also violated on May 17 in the eyes of Twitter, when Elon Musk publicly invited the SEC, the American stock market policeman, to investigate this figure of 5% regularly advanced by Twitter.
“Hello SEC. Is there anyone here?” Elon Musk quipped, in response to his own tweet ironic about the low percentage of fake accounts advanced by Twitter.
In its complaint, Twitter specifies that despite these provocations, the company continued to respond to “increasingly unreasonable” requests from Elon Musk’s teams between May 16 and May 20, 2022.
An approach that was therefore not enough to convince the billionaire to spend 44 billion dollars to afford the social network and to avoid what could be one of the most resounding trials in Silicon Valley.