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WORLD | 27-10-2022 17:11

Seeking 'healthy' debate, Musk nears Twitter deal finish line

Tech company's employees and users await end of tumultuous takeover with bated breath.

Closing in on his Twitter megadeal, Elon Musk said Thursday his goal is to enable the "healthy" debate of ideas and counter the tendency of social media to splinter into partisan "echo chambers."

In a message meant to reassure jittery Twitter advertisers on the eve of a court-imposed deadline to finalise the deal, Musk said he would work with marketers to "build something extraordinary together."

The billionaire entrepreneur pursued the $44 billion deal "because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner," Musk tweeted.

The planned takeover has dismayed activists who fear a surge in harassment and misinformation under the unpredictable Musk, who himself is known for trolling other Twitter users.

But Musk said he realises Twitter "cannot become a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences."

The Tesla boss's on-again, off-again acquisition of the platform appeared to be entering its final phase after a Delaware judge paused litigation on October 6th on Twitter's suit against Musk after he previously walked away from the deal.

Musk has reportedly been lining up financing and, while there is always the chance of a last-minute curveball, more signs point to the deal's likely closure.

The New York Stock Exchange posted a pending order to suspend trading Twitter stock before Friday's session.

Shares of Twitter climbed 1.1 percent to $53.96 near 16:15 GMT Thursday, not far below the $54.20 purchase price in Musk's deal.

"We expect Musk and Twitter to officially close the deal by Friday morning with Cinderella finally getting the glass slipper that fits," said Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

 

'Chief Twit' 

Musk originally agreed to the Twitter acquisition in April, but soon pulled back, saying in July he was cancelling the contract because he was misled by Twitter over the number of fake "bot" accounts ⁠— allegations rejected by the company.

Twitter in turn sought to prove Musk, who also heads aerospace firm SpaceX, was contriving excuses to walk away simply because he changed his mind.

A trial on Twitter's suit was scheduled for mid-October, but the Delaware court gave the parties until 5:00 pm on October 28, 2022 to close the transaction.

Fresh questions about the deal and Twitter's future surfaced last week following reports Musk planned deep staff cuts.

But on Wednesday, Musk changed his Twitter profile to "Chief Twit" and posted a video of himself walking into the company's California headquarters carrying a sink.

The South African-born entrepreneur is a polarising figure in American business.

Supporters cheer his disruptive spirit and achievements at Tesla, while detractors criticise him as a megalomaniac with a dangerous tendency to wade into geopolitical topics in which he lacks expertise, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

In his latest statement Thursday, Musk said much of the public speculation about his intentions in the deal had been "wrong" as he insisted his goals were noble.

In pursuing Twitter, "I didn't do it because it would be easy. I didn't do it to make more money," Musk said. 

"I did so with humility, recognizing that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility."

Musk urged marketers to devise ads that are "as relevant as possible" to consumers, appealing to the industry at a time when tech giants Google and Facebook have reported big declines in advertising revenue.

"Low relevancy ads are spam, but highly relevant ads are actually content!" he said.

Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg said Twitter's ad business has suffered due to uncertainty surrounding the Musk deal, as well as the macroeconomic concerns that have buffeted the broader online ad industry.

"Even slightly loosening content moderation on the platform is sure to spook advertisers, many of whom already find Twitter's brand safety tools to be lacking compared with other social platforms," Enberg said.

Having more relevant ads is "a noble goal, but one that is difficult to accomplish," Enberg said.

"Musk is set to acquire Twitter at a time when data is already scarce and users are highly sceptical of forking over more personal information to social platforms."

 

- TIMES/AFP

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