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Elon Musk has raised the prospect of a renegotiation in his takeover of Twitter, saying a deal at a lower price would not be “out of the question”, amid a row on how the company is tackling spam bots with Parag Agrawal, the platform's chief executive.
Shares in the social media company fell 8pc after the announcement. The stock has been dropping amid fears that Mr Musk could walk away from the $44bn (£36bn) acquisition. That concern has grown over the past week after Mr Musk, the world’s richest man, questioned the number of spam and fake accounts on Twitter.
Mr Musk said on Monday that fake users were estimated to make up at least 20pc of all Twitter accounts.
The outspoken billionaire even asked rhetorically if the number could be as high as 90pc, according to a video of his appearance at a Miami tech conference.
Twitter declined to comment, although Mr Agrawal earlier posted a thread on the site saying “we suspend over half a million spam accounts every day”. Mr Agrawal said that spam bots are "sophisticated and hard to catch", their strategies evolve in response to Twitter's methods to catch them, and many look "totally legitimate".
He said that internal data shows that 5pc of accounts are fake, but this analysis cannot be performed externally "given the critical need to use both public and private information".
Mr Musk replied with a poo emoji and said: "How do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter."
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 16, 2022
Mr Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, last week said that his bid to buy Twitter was “temporarily on hold” pending details about how many spam and fake accounts are on the platform.
Over the weekend, he tweeted that Twitter’s legal team called to complain that he had violated their non-disclosure agreement.
Mr Musk spoke at a conference hosted by a podcast called “All-In” run by Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, David Sacks and David Friedberg.
The $7,500-per-person event was sold out, and organisers said journalists were excluded from attending. Mr Musk appeared at the Miami summit via video conference.
Mr Musk began buying Twitter shares in January and disclosed a 9.2pc stake in the company on April 4. Twitter’s board accepted Musk’s $44bn bid to buy the company and take it private April 25, but the deal has yet to close and Twitter’s shares are trading far below Musk’s offer.
Some market analysts believe that Musk is angling to pay a lower price for Twitter by raising the issue of fake accounts on the network.
The spread between Mr Musk’s $54.20-a-share offer price and Twitter’s share price continues to widen, wiping out all the gains the stock had made since Mr Musk disclosed his stake in the social media platform.