Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey Private Text Messages Expose Reasoning Behind Twitter Takeover

Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey Private Text Messages Expose Reasoning Behind Twitter Takeover
Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks up as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway, on Aug. 29, 2022. (Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Moran
In the weeks leading up to Elon Musk’s announcement to purchase Twitter, the billionaire CEO was bombarded with text messages from business leaders, media personalities, and celebrities, a new court filing revealed (pdf).
The text messages provide insight into the many private conversations involving Musk and other prominent individuals during his quest to purchase the social media giant. From seeking advice on what to do to improve the website to potentially obtaining financial assistance for his takeover bid, the exchanges showcase the excitement and frenzy leading up to where Musk and Twitter are today.

Jack Dorsey

On Mar. 24, Musk asked his millions of followers if the “Twitter algorithm should be open source.” The Twitter poll received 82.7 percent of votes in favor of altering the algorithm.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter cofounder and former CEO, responded to the poll through text, saying that “a new platform is needed.” Musk then inquired about what the social network should look like.

“I believe it must be an open source protocol, funded by a foundation of sorts that doesn’t own the protocol, only advances it. A bit like what Signal has done. It can’t have an advertising model. Otherwise you have surface area that governments and advertisers will try to influence and control. If it has a centralized entity behind it, it will be attacked,” Dorsey wrote. “This isn’t complicated work, it just has to be done right so it’s resilient to what has happened to twitter [sic].”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addresses students during a town hall at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 12, 2018. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addresses students during a town hall at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 12, 2018. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

He noted that turning Twitter into a corporation was its “original sin.”

Two days later, Dorsey told Musk that the company’s board of directors was uninterested in giving him a seat, telling him that “the board is just super risk averse and saw adding you as more risk.” Of course, one week later, Musk announced his intentions to join the board, although he later changed his mind and decided to acquire the business for $44 billion.

Dorsey also noted that the board’s approach to Musk “was completely stupid and backward,” noting that he couldn’t do much since he only possessed one vote, owned 3 percent of the firm, and didn’t have any dual-class shares.

Parag Agrawal

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal got in touch with Musk in an April 3 text, congratulating him for joining Twitter’s board. He wrote that he was “super excited about the opportunity” to work together and that he was looking “forward to working closely and finding ways to use your time as effectively as possible.”

Agrawal requested that Musk treat him like an engineer instead of a chief executive, as he used to be the chief technical officer and spent a long time in Twitter’s codebase.

But the text messages quickly turned sour following an April 9 Twitter post where Musk asked, “Is Twitter dying?”

Agrawal reached out to Musk, informing him that while he was “free to tweet ‘Is Twitter dying?’” or anything about Twitter, it wasn’t “helping [Agrawal to] make Twitter better in the current context.”

“I’d like the company to get to a place where we are more resilient and don’t get distracted, but we aren’t there right now,” Agrawal wrote.

“What did you get done this week?” Musk responded. “I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time.”

A few days later, Musk contacted Agrawal and confirmed that he would “make an offer to take Twitter private.”

Mathias Dopfner

Mathias Dopfner, CEO of German digital publishing house Axel Springer, urged Musk to buy Twitter and let his firm manage the website.

“We run it for you. And establish a true platform of free speech. Would be a real contribution to democracy,” Dopfner wrote in a text message.

Musk called it an “interesting idea,” to which Dopfner responded that he was “serious” and that it was “doable.”

“Will be fun,” Dopfner wrote.

He followed up on his proposal on Apr. 6, offering a more detailed plan for the social media outlet. He agreed that “it is the de facto public town square” and that it would be “the global backbone of free speech.” Dopfner suggested making Twitter “censorship-FREE by radically reducing Terms of Services” to just three things: prohibited from sending spam or scamming users, promoting violence, or posting illegal pornography.

The next step, according to Dopfner, is to “Make Twitter censorship-RESISTANT.”

“Ensure censorship resistance by implementing measures that warrant that Twitter can’t be censored long term, regardless of which government and management,” he wrote.

“How? Keep pushing projects at Twitter that have been working on developing a decentralized social network protocol (e.g., BlueSky). It’s not easy but the backend must run on decentralized infrastructure, APIs should become open (back to the roots! Twitter started and became big with open APIs).”

According to Dopfner, this would manufacture a marketplace for algorithms, so “if you’re a snowflake and don’t want content that offends you pick another algorithm.”

After his discussion of a “Solve Share Price” strategy, the messages were cut off in the documents without any noted response from Musk.

Larry Ellison

Musk reached out to Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle and former Tesla board member, on Apr. 20. He inquired if Ellison had “any interest in participating in the Twitter deal.” He responded that he would be interested.

“Roughly what dollar size? Not holding you to anything, but the deal is oversubscribed, so I have to reduce or kick out some participants,” Musk said.

Ellison answered with “a billion ... or whatever you recommend.”

“Whatever works for you. I’d recommend maybe $2B or more,” Musk wrote. “This has very high potential and I’d rather have you than anyone else.”

Ellison responded, “I agree that it has huge potential ... and it would be a lot of fun.”

Joe Rogan, Gayle King, and Justin Roiland

Musk has appeared a couple of times on podcaster Joe Rogan’s show. On Apr. 4, Rogan sent a text message asking if Musk was “going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” The Tesla Motors CEO replied, “I will provide advice, which they may or may not choose to follow.”

CBS anchor Gayle King asked if he would sit down for an interview to talk about the deal.

“Have you missed me,” she wrote in an April 6 message. “Are you ready to do a proper sit down with me? So much to discuss! Especially with your Twitter play. ... What do I need to do???”

Musk dismissed the entire situation as “getting blown out of proportion,” later noting that a “Twitter edit button is coming.”

One week later, she made another request for a one-on-one interview.

“ELON! You buying Twitter or offering to buy Twitter,” she wrote. “Wow! Now don’t you think we should sit down together face to face? This is, as the kids of today say, a ‘gangsta move.'”

Justin Roiland, co-creator of the hit television series “Rick and Morty,” recommended that Musk use his friends’ technology to verify users’ real identities and confirm that they’re “not a troll farm.” This would have been relevant since Musk’s reasoning behind abandoning his acquisition is that he thinks the number of fake and spam accounts is much higher than what Twitter is officially reporting.

Developments in the Twitter–Musk Saga

Twitter and Musk will now settle the corporate dispute in court. The tech firm will try to force Musk to complete his acquisition of Twitter, while he attempts to end the takeover bid. Musk had failed to get the trial delayed until early next year. Instead, the two sides are scheduled to appear in a Delaware Chancery Court on Oct. 17.

This comes weeks after Twitter shareholders voted to approve Musk’s proposal to buy the business for $44 billion. The Twitter stock posted a September gain of 13.52 percent, rising to $43.84 shares. Year-to-date, the company is up by 2.77 percent.

Andrew Moran has been writing about business, economics, and finance for more than a decade. He is the author of "The War on Cash."
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