Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter and fired the company’s CEO, CFO and general counsel, two people familiar with the matter said late Thursday.
The sources did not say if all the paperwork for the deal, which was originally valued at $44 billion, had already been signed or if it had already been closed. But they pointed out that Musk is in charge of the social network and fired the CEO, Parag Agrawal; CFO Ned Sagal and General Counsel Vijaya Gadde. Neither person wanted to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the deal.
Hours later, Musk tweeted “the bird has been released,” referring to the Twitter logo, a blue bird.
The dismissals occurred a few hours before the deadline to finalize the agreement imposed by a Delaware judge, who threatened to schedule a trial if the agreement was not finalized for Friday, October 28.
Although they happened very quickly, the changes in the direction of the social network were widely expected and it is almost certain that they will be the first of many that the temperamental CEO of Tesla will make.
Musk had private differences with Agrawal last April, just before deciding to make a purchase offer for the company, according to text messages later disclosed in court filings.
Around the same time, he used his Twitter account to criticize Gadde, the company’s top lawyer. Her tweets were followed by a wave of harassment against the legal advisor from other accounts on the social network. For Gadde, who worked 11 years at the company and was also in charge of security and public policy, the harassment included misogynistic and racist attacks, as well as calls for Musk to fire her. The harassing messages resumed on Thursday after her cessation.
Musk’s changes will be aimed at increasing Twitter’s subscriber base and revenue.
In his first big move earlier Thursday, Musk tried to reassure the social network’s advertisers by saying he was buying it to help humanity and that he didn’t want it to become an “anarchic hell.”
The message appeared to be aimed at appeasing concerns from advertisers — Twitter’s main source of income — that the billionaire’s plans to promote free speech by cutting back on content moderation would open the floodgates to more toxicity on the internet and drive away to users.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important for the future of civilization to have a common digital public square, where a wide range of beliefs can be discussed in a healthy way, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote in a blog post. Unusually long message for the CEO of Tesla, who normally projects his thoughts in one-line tweets.
“Currently there is a great danger that social networks will be divided into far-right and far-left sounding boards that will generate more hate and divide our society,” he added.
Musk has previously expressed his distaste for advertising and Twitter’s reliance on it, suggesting more emphasis on other business models such as paid subscriptions that don’t allow large corporations to dictate the operating policy of social networks. But on Thursday, he assured advertisers that he wants Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world.”
This message represents a change in the position of Musk, who considered that Twitter unfairly violated the right to freedom of expression by blocking disinformation or graphic content, said Pinar Yildirim, an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University from Pennsylvania.
But it is also the realization that not moderating content is bad for business as it puts Twitter at risk of losing advertisers and subscribers, he added.
“You don’t want a place where consumers are bombarded with things they don’t want to hear and where the platform doesn’t take any responsibility,” Yildirim said.
According to Musk, Twitter should be “warm and welcoming for everyone” and allow its users to choose the experience they want to have.
The deadline to close the deal by Friday was set by the Delaware Court of Chancery in early October. It’s the latest step in a legal battle that began in April, when Musk signed a deal to acquire Twitter and then tried to back out, prompting the company to sue him to force him to go ahead with the acquisition.