Why does Elon Musk want to own Twitter so much?

“A best and final offer”
“A best and final offer”
Image: Reuters
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Elon Musk didn’t accept a board seat on Twitter. Now he wants a bigger prize: all of Twitter itself.

Musk, the richest person in the world, has offered to buy the company for $54.20 per share—or around $43 billion in total. The purchase, Musk said in an SEC filing, will give shareholders “a 54% premium over the day before I began investing in Twitter and a 38% premium over the day before my investment was publicly announced.” The offer price was chosen, seemingly, because it held the numerals “420,” Musk’s beloved collegiate-level reference to marijuana.

Alongside this carrot, Musk also brandished a stick.This was his “best and final offer,” he said: “I am not playing the back-and-forth game.” If it isn’t accepted, he will “reconsider” his shareholding in Twitter, he added, dangling the possibility of dumping the 9.2% stake that he already owns—and of the subsequent crash in the share price that might follow.

Elon Musk is addicted to Twitter

Musk’s net worth stands at around $260 billion, so he can easily afford to buy the company. But it’s impossible not to wonder why a man who has Tesla, SpaceX, and a tunnel-digging company to keep him busy also wants to own Twitter so much.

It isn’t as if Twitter fits the profile of the futuristic engineering firms that Musk currently runs. And Twitter isn’t likely to multiply his net worth many times over; in fact, the price per share that he offered is already well below the all-time closing high of $77.63, which the stock hit in March last year.

In a letter to the chairman of Twitter’s board, Musk argued that the company had transformative potential for free speech but that it would “neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”

Perhaps Musk genuinely believes that he can unlock Twitter’s potential. But that would, frankly, be more credible if his recent fusillade of tweets on the changes he wanted in the company didn’t lurch so often into the ridiculous. Among his ideas: deleting the “w” in Twitter and turning the firm’s San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter.

The caliber of Musk’s engagement with Twitter over the years makes it tempting to think that the company could be just an enjoyable distraction for him. But owning Twitter could also give him the kind of public platform that a Tesla or a SpaceX never can. Musk wouldn’t be the first billionaire who wants to sway public opinion, and to wield that ability as a form of power and influence.

In a sober press release responding to Musk’s offer, Twitter said: “The Twitter Board of Directors will carefully review the proposal to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interest of the Company and all Twitter stockholders.”