Elon Musk says he won’t budge on Twitter deal until CEO Parag Agrawal shows him proof of bot numbers

May 17, 2022, 8:27 AM UTC

Elon Musk has said his $44 billion Twitter deal won’t move forward until the company’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, proves that fewer than 5% of the social media platform’s users are fake accounts.

Responding to a tweet claiming the billionaire Tesla co-founder may be looking for a better deal, Musk said his offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate.

The company said in filings earlier this month that it estimated spam and fake accounts made up less than 5% of its active monetizable daily users.

But Musk said in his tweet on Tuesday that the actual figure could in fact be well over 20%.

The proportion of bots on Twitter has apparently become a point of contention for Musk recently, with the world’s richest man announcing last week that he had “temporarily” put the deal on hold as he waited for details of how Twitter had calculated the rate of fake accounts.

He said at the time that he was “still committed to [the] acquisition,” but added that his team would conduct its own review of a random sample of 100 followers of Twitter’s verified account.

Later, Musk said Twitter had contacted him to inform him that he had violated a non-disclosure agreement with the company by revealing that his sample size was 100 accounts.

Musk’s latest revelation comes a day after he replied with a poop emoji to a series of tweets published by Agrawal, in which the Twitter chief laid out how the company blocks and removes fake accounts from the platform.

‘Something doesn’t add up’

In an interview with the All-In podcast on Tuesday, Musk said he was being told there was just no way to know the true number of bots on Twitter.

“You can have an account that looks exactly like a human account or is being operated where one person’s operating 1,000 accounts or something,” he said. “But that person can only buy one toaster, they’re not going to buy 1,000 toasters. So, you care about unique, real people that are on the system, it’s fundamental.”

He questioned Twitter’s claim that more than 95% of its active users were “real, unique humans,” telling the podcast’s hosts that he thought the number of fake accounts was probably four or five rimes higher than Twitter’s estimates.

“The lowest estimate would be probably 20%,” he said. “A lot of smart outside firms have done analysis for Twitter and looked at the daily users, and their conclusion is also about 20%, but that’s a lower bound.”

Musk noted that his recent tweet about buying Coca-Cola so he could put cocaine back into the drink was the platform’s most-liked tweet, with just under 5 million likes.  

“Twitter says the monetizable daily active users is 217 million, so why would it be that the most popular tweet ever is only 2, 2.5% of the entire user base? This seems a very, very low number,” he said. “How is this possible? Surely there’s something that 10% of people would like, not nearly 2%.”  

He added: “Something doesn’t add up here, and my concern is not is it 5 or 7 or 8%, but is it potentially 80% or 90% bots? I certainly know there’s some real people on Twitter, but is it an order of magnitude?”

Is Musk getting cold feet?

Analysts at Wedbush said in a note on Monday that they viewed the $44 billion Twitter deal as less than 50% likely to get done, dubbing the bot issue a “dog ate the homework” excuse for Musk to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price.

“Our view is that while Musk is committed to the deal, the massive pressure on Tesla’s stock since the deal [was announced], a changing stock market and risk environment in the last month, and a number of other financing factors has caused Musk to get cold feet, with the bot issue not a new issue and likely more of a scapegoat to push for a lower price,” they said.

“The Twitter Board is caught in a quagmire, as if they do not accept a lower price (after negotiations following the bot issue scrutiny over the coming weeks) and Musk does actually walk, the stock would likely see a sub $30 level with a broken deal in this shaky market backdrop.”

Twitter shares were down almost 3% in pre-market trade on Tuesday.

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