The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has completed his $44bn acquisition of Twitter, amid warnings from politicians and campaigners that hate speech on the platform must be held in check.
The social media group confirmed the deal in a brief filing on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday morning, disclosing the deal had closed the day before. Shares in the company have been suspended and will delist on 8 November, capping a chaotic saga that began when the billionaire first announced his plans to take the tech business private in April.
Musk marked the transaction with a post to his 110 million followers declaring the “bird has been freed”, in a reference to the company’s corporate logo, before adding: “let the good times roll”.
Musk is expected to take on the role of chief executive at Twitter, while he searches for new leadership. Shortly after taking the helm, he reportedly ousted several senior figures, including the chief executive, Parag Agrawal; the chief financial officer, Ned Segal; and the head of legal policy, trust and safety, Vijaya Gadde.
Segal tweeted on Friday that he had “concluded 5 years @twitter”. On Friday Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of lastminute.com and a Twitter board member, paid tribute to Agrawal, Gadde and Segal, thanking them for “leading with incredible integrity and care.”
News of the deal, after months of legal back-and-forth, brought immediate warnings that it must not lead to a surge in hate speech and disinformation on the platform, which has more than 230 million users. Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist”, has said he intends to bring banned users, including Donald Trump, back to the platform.
Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, responded with a tweet warning that the bird “will fly by our rules” – in a reference to the EU’s digital services act, which requires online platforms to tackle illegal content such as hate speech.
Thérèse Coffey, the UK environment secretary, said it would be “concerning” if a relaxation of content moderation led to a proliferation on hate speech on the platform. However, the UK’s online safety bill, which targets hate speech among other types of harmful content, has been placed on pause again after Rishi Sunak’s appointment as prime minister.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, tweeted: “Any decision about allowing suspended users to return must be taken incredibly carefully & in direct consultation with experts in countering digital hate & misinformation.”
One internet safety campaigner said on Friday that the deal could “unravel” Twitter’s work on improving the platform, after reports that Gadde had been fired.
Seyi Akiwowo, the head of Glitch, a UK-based charity that campaigns against online abuse, said Gadde’s removal was a blow. She tweeted: “I am very concerned that the progress Twitter has finally made on safety over the last 6 years will unravel in the next few weeks.”
In the US, the first amendment campaign group PEN America said the midterm elections on 8 November would be a “pivotal” moment for the platform, showing whether Musk has grasped the intricacies of its operations.
“With the election two weeks out a pivotal indicator will be whether purveyors of disinformation are given free rein to mislead people over Twitter about when, where and how to vote,” said Suzanne Nossel, the organisation’s chief executive.
On Thursday, Musk attempted to play down concerns over harmful content. In a message to Twitter’s advertising clients, he said turning the site into a “hellscape” would not work. He tweeted that the platform “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape” and the platform must be “warm and welcoming to all”.
However, Musk’s very first public statement on Friday morning was to promise pseudonymous Maga influencer “Catturd” that he would be “digging in” to why the user’s account is “shadowbanned” – a reference to it not showing up in search results. With 850,000 followers, the account is one of the more prominent on the US right.
Musk, who is worth $212bn, has committed to financing most of the transaction himself, although he has received commitments worth more than $7bn from investors including Larry Ellison, founder of the Oracle software group, and the cryptocurrency platform Binance. The deal will also be backed by a $13bn debt package led by a consortium of Wall Street banks.
Immediate termination of the three Twitter executives’ employment could cost the company more than $120m. Under “golden parachute” clauses Agrawal, Segal and Gadde would all qualify for lucrative payouts to cover previous share awards, plus a year’s salary and some insurance benefits. Agrawal would be entitled to total payments of $57.4m, and Segal and Gedde $44.5m and $20m respectively.
They also hold shares worth $8.3m, $22m and $34.8m respectively. Those shares are likely to be bought by Musk during the takeover. The closure of the deal will also trigger payments for Twitter’s US investment bankers that were conditional on completion of the takeover. JP Morgan Chase will receive $48m and Goldman Sachs $65m.
Completion of the deal brings to a close a takeover that became mired in corporate and legal drama soon after it was announced in April. Within weeks the deal, which Musk had signed on 25 April, began to founder as its prospective owner raised concerns about the number of vexatious spam accounts on the platform.
This led the Tesla chief executive to announce in July that he was walking away from the transaction.
Twitter then sued Musk in the US state of Delaware, where the company is incorporated, to demand that he close the deal. After a surprise change of mind by Musk as a court date approached, a Delaware judge gave both sides until 5pm on 28 October to close the deal.