The Industry

“Are You Going to Liberate Twitter From the Censorship Happy Mob?”

A trove of Elon Musk’s messages reveals what Joe Rogan, Gayle King, and Silicon Valley’s elite texted him as he tried to buy Twitter.

Elon Musk sitting on a stage and holding a microphone
Thinking about texting someone, probably. Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

This article is from Big Technology, a newsletter by Alex Kantrowitz.

On Thursday afternoon, the Delaware Chancery Court released two exhibits of evidence: hundreds of text messages between Elon Musk and other relevant parties in the Twitter deal, which Musk tried to walk away from earlier this year, leading Twitter to sue to force the deal through. The trial is set to begin on Oct. 17.

Given that it’s Musk, many of the exchanges are revealing, irreverent, and extremely fun. They’re also a rare look into the inner workings of Silicon Valley dealmaking, giving us some insight into Musk’s process and how he lost interest in his prized acquisition.

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Here are the most revealing exchanges, with some analysis along the way.

March 24, 2022: Twitter = Influence

Joe Lonsdale: I love your “Twitter algorithm should be open source” tweet - I’m actually speaking to over 100 members of congress tomorrow at GOP policy retreat and this is one of the ideas I’m pushing for reigning in crazy big tech. Now I can cite you so I’ll sound less crazy myself :) Our public square needs to not have arbitrary sketchy censorship. 

Musk: Absolutely 

Musk: What we have right now is hidden corruption!

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Two weeks before Musk announced he’d acquired 9.2 percent of Twitter, he received a text about his influence over tech-policy conversations from Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale. From the outset, it’s clear: Controlling Twitter means great political influence.

March 26: Jack Plants the Seed

Jack Dorsey: Twitter started as a protocol. It should have never been a company. That was the original sin. 

Musk: I’d like to help if I’m able to.

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Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who had recently stepped down as CEO, nudges Musk to get more involved with Twitter, viewing him as a magical elixir that can cure the platform’s problems.

April 3: Musk Makes His First Move

Parag Agrawal: I’m super excited about the opportunity and look forward to working closely and finding ways to use your time as effectively as possible to improve Twitter and the public conversation.

Musk: Sounds great!

Musk acquires 9.2 percent of Twitter, becoming its largest individual shareholder. As the news hits, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal seems excited to work with him.

April 4: Joe Rogan Weighs In

Joe Rogan: Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob? 

Musk: I will provide advice, which they may or may not choose to follow

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As Musk asserts his influence over Twitter, podcaster Joe Rogan, a frequent critic of social-media giants’ content-moderation policies, is among many who encourage him to use his power to fulfill their objectives. Musk is lukewarm. His pursuit of Twitter is ideological but he’s not a classic culture warrior.

April 5: Musk Wants a Board Seat and Jack Is Elated

Musk: When is a good time to talk confidentially 

Jack Dorsey: Anytime 

[1.5 hours later]

Musk: Thanks, great conversation

Dorsey: Always! I couldn’t be happier you’re doing this. I’ve wanted it for a long time. Got very emotional when I learned it was finally possible. 

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Musk now says he’ll join Twitter’s board and Dorsey remains convinced his involvement will be good for Twitter.

April 6: Gayle King Is Here!

Gayle King: Gayle here! Have you missed me (smile) 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 ???? Ps I like a twitter edit feature with a 24 hour time limit… we all say shit we regret want to take back in the heat of the moment 

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Musk’s inbox fills with media requests as the process develops. CBS News host Gayle King drops a line and asks for an interview.

April 7: Musk and Parag Bond Over Code

Musk: I interface way better with engineers who are able to do hardcore programming than with program manager / MBA types of people 

Agrawal: In our next convo- treat me like an engineer instead of CEO and lets see where we get to. 

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Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tries to ingratiate himself with his new would-be board member by flexing his technical chops.

April 9: Musk Ditches the Board Plan

Agrawal: You are free to tweet “Is twitter dying?” Or anything else about Twitter - but it’s my responsibility to tell you that it’s not helping me make twitter better in the current context. Next time we speak, I’d like you to provide you perspective on the level of internal distraction right now and how it hurting our ability to do work. I hope the AMA will help people get to know you, to understand why you believe in Twitter, and to trust you - and 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

Musk: What did you get done this week?

Musk: I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time.

Musk: Will make an offer to take Twitter private.

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In a series of tweets over the weekend, Musk asks “Is Twitter dying?” pointing to its declining use by high-profile celebrities. Just two days after trying to bond, Agrawal scolds Musk. The next day Agrawal says Musk will not join the board.

April 9: Musk Knew About the Bots All Along

Musk [to Bret Taylor]: Fixing twitter by chatting with Parag won’t work

Musk: Drastic action is needed 

Musk: This is hard to do as a public company, as purging fake users will make the numbers look terrible, so restructuring should be done as a private company 

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Soon after Agrawal scolds him, Musk writes to Twitter board chairman Bret Taylor, saying he can’t work with Agrawal and will take Twitter private. Notably, Musk demonstrates he’s aware of Twitter’s fake-user problem, which he would later claim Twitter misled him about.

April 15: Musk Hates Twitter Blue

Jason Calacanis: What committee came up with the list of dog shit features in Blue?!? It’s worth paying to turn it off! 

Musk: Yeah, what an insane piece of shit!

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Media personality and angel investor Jason Calacanis makes a number of amusing appearances in the chat logs. He and Musk don’t seem to like Twitter’s subscription product, Twitter Blue.

April 20: Elon Taps Larry

Musk: Any interested in participating in the Twitter deal?

Larry Ellison: Yes, of course 

Musk: Cool

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

Ellison: A billion… or whatever you recommend 

Musk is now all-in on taking Twitter private, he just needs all the money. He texts billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison to see if he wants in. Ellison casually suggests a billion-dollar investment. Musk gets him to double it.

April 25: Jack Encourages the Plan

Musk: I basically following your advice!

Dorsey: I know and I appreciate you. This is the right and only path. I’ll continue to do whatever it takes to make it work. 

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Musk agreed to buy Twitter on April 25. By then, he’d publicly insulted the company, made it look stupid with his board antics, and gave up on its CEO. He has to yet send a poop emoji, but that’s coming. Dorsey offers more support.

April 25: Marc Andreessen Requires No Additional Work

Andreessen: If you are considering equity partners, my growth fund is in for $250M with no additional work required 

Musk: Thanks! 

Musk: Sure, would be great to have you as an equity partner

Venture Capitalist Marc Andreessen offers a big check with “no additional work required.” This may be a vote of confidence in Musk’s ability to do business. It may also be money to hurt Andreessen’s political opponents, who support the content moderation that Musk opposes.

April 26: One More Ill-Fated Call With Parag

Musk: You and I are in complete agreement. Parag is just moving far too slowly and trying to please people who will not be happy no matter what he does

Dorsey: At least it became clear that you can’t work together. That was clarifying

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Dorsey now sees Musk’s plan diverging from his own. The relationship with Agrawal, Dorsey’s chosen CEO, is toast.

April 27: Be On My Podcast?

Tim Urban: I haven’t officially started my podcast yet but if you think it would be helpful, I’d be happy to record a conversation with you about twitter to ask some of the most common questions and let you expand upon your thoughts 

Urban: but only if it would be helpful to you 

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Musk is on the receiving end of a healthy dose of media and influencer interest throughout this process. It’s interesting to watch Urban, the creator of the website Wait But Why, carefully try to position himself as helpful to Musk even though landing this interview would be a coup.

April 27: Your Thoughts on Twitter Conversational OS?

Marc Benioff: Happy to talk about it if this is interesting: Twitter conversational OS- the townsquare for your digital life 

Musk: Well I down own it yet 

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff drops in with some jargon. Musk is not impressed.

April 27: Satya Nadella Drops By

Satya Nadella: Thx for the chat. Will stay in touch. And will for sure follow-up on Teams feedback! 

The sheer number of powerful people asking for Elon Musk’s ear demonstrates how powerful controlling Twitter would make him. Here, Musk takes the opportunity to deliver some Teams feedback to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

April 29: Hire My Son

Musk: Please send me anyone who actually writes good software 

Steve Jurvetson: Ok, no management good coders, got it.

Musk: Yes

Musk: Twitter is a software company (or should be)

Jurvetson: Yes. My son at Reddit and some other young people come to mind. 

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Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson texts to recommend former Uber exec Emil Michael for the Twitter CEO job. When Musk says he’s looking for people who can code, Jurvetson volunteers his son.

May 1: Post-Deal Diligence at Mom’s

Musk [to Sean Parker]: At my mom’s apartment doing Twitter diligence calls

Twitter accepted Musk’s offer to buy it in late April. Musk is doing diligence in May.

May 10: You’re Making Me Look Desperate

Musk: What’s going on with you marketing an SPV to randos? This is not ok. 

Calacanis: Not randos, I have the largest angel syndicate and that’s how I invest. We’ve done 250+ deals like this and we know all the folks. I though that was how folks were doing it. 

Musk: Morgan Stanley and Jared think you are using our friendship not in a good way

Musk: This makes it seem like I’m desperate

Musk: Please stop

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Jason Calacanis returns, this time for a Musk scolding after Calacanis marketed investment in the Twitter deal to his angel syndicate. Calacanis apologizes and tells Musk he’s a ride-or-die friend who would jump on a “grande” for him.

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Within a month, Musk would make it plain to the public that he wanted out of the deal, and by July, he would attempt to terminate it. Here, after three months of Twitter drama, he appears fed up with Twitter’s management’s unwillingness to go along with his plan—and, perhaps, with people trying to use his investment for their own purposes and agendas. Of course, Twitter’s stock price also plummeted around this time—far, far below Musk’s offer to take the company private—making the entire deal a far less enticing prospect.

Musk’s Twitter “purchase” made him the most sought-after person in business, but it was a mixed blessing. To judge by his texts, at least, focusing on building rockets and electric cars might even come off as the simpler, better option. Next month, Musk will go to court to try to unwind the deal. It might not be as easy as he’d like.

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