Elon Musk challenges Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to a debate on bots

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“The past two years have been an absolutely nightmare of supply chain disruptions, one thing after another, and we are not out of it yet,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said.
Patrick T. Fallon | Reuters

Centi-billionaire Elon Musk provoked Twitter and challenged the company’s CEO Parag Agrawal to a “public debate” about fake accounts and spam in the midst of a contentious legal battle over a $44 billion acquisition.

Musk filed a bid with the Securities and Exchange to acquire Twitter back in April this year. After the companies agreed to move ahead with a take-private deal, Musk said he was terminating his acquisition, and accused Twitter of presenting false numbers, including in its SEC filings, pertaining to the amount of monetizable daily active users, and the number of spam and bot accounts on the social network.

Twitter then sued Musk in a Delaware chancery court to ensure the deal would go through as promised, and Musk filed counterclaims and a countersuit there on July 29.

In a series of tweets that Musk began posting just before 1 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, Musk interacted with a fan who had summarized his accusations about Twitter including that it was stonewalling him and giving him, “outdated data,” and “a fake data set” when he asked the company for details about how it tabulates mDAU, and estimates for spam and bot accounts.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO wrote, “Good summary of the problem. If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms. However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

By just after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, Musk started a Twitter poll asking his followers to vote on whether “[l]ess than 5% of Twitter daily users are fake/spam.” Respondents to the informal poll could choose one of Musk’s provided answers which read either “Yes” followed by three robot emoji, or “Lmaooo no.” (The slang abbreviation “lmao” stands for “laughing my a– off.)

Musk also wrote Saturday morning: “I hereby challenge @paraga to a public debate about the Twitter bot percentage. Let him prove to the public that Twitter has <5% fake or spam daily users!”

Attorneys for Musk did not respond to requests to comment on Saturday, and an attorney for Twitter declined to comment on Musk’s Saturday tweets. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

At an annual shareholder meeting for Tesla on Aug. 4, Musk was asked to speak about Twitter during a question-and-answer session that followed a proxy vote.

He said, drawing laughter from the audience in attendance, “I obviously have to be a little careful what I say about Twitter because there’s this lawsuit and stuff.” He confirmed that the only two publicly traded securities he owns are Tesla and Twitter.

And then he spoke as if he still wants to become the owner of the social networking company, a stark contrast to arguments made by Musk via his attorneys in legal filings in Delaware in which Musk argues he should not have to go through with the deal.

At the Tesla 2022 shareholders’ meeting, Musk said: “I think in the case of Twitter since I use it a lot, shoot myself in the foot a lot, you know, dig my grave, etc. I think it’s — I do understand the product quite well, so I think I’ve got a good sense of where to point the engineering team at Twitter to make it radically better.”

He added that Twitter would “help accelerate” a “pretty grand vision” he had to build a business he’d been thinking about since his earliest years as a tech entrepreneur, X.com or X Corporation.

“Obviously that could be started from scratch,” he said, “but I think Twitter would help accelerate that by three to five years. So it’s kind of like something I’ve thought would be quite useful for a long time. I know what to do. Don’t have to have Twitter for that but, like I said, it’s probably at least a three-year accelerant and I think it’s something that will be very useful to the world.”

Musk didn’t go into any further details at that meeting. However, he reportedly said during a town hall meeting with Twitter employees in June this year that he wanted to grow Twitter’s user base to a billion people and saw Twitter as a platform that could evolve into an app like China’s WeChat, a “super app,” that incorporates everything from messaging, video and social media, to mobile and point-of-sales payments, with a robust app ecosystem.

Unless they reach a settlement first, Twitter and Musk are headed for a five-day trial in Delaware that starts on Oct. 17. The judge ruling on the case is Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick.

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