Credit - Photo-illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME
Hundreds of Elon Musk’s private text messages about Twitter were made public Thursday in a Delaware court filing, part of a stack of evidence in Twitter’s forthcoming legal case against the Tesla CEO.
Musk’s texts offer a rare insight into the private conversations of the man at the center of a business deal that captivated the world. The messages were mostly sent in March and April this year, a period when Musk began regularly criticizing Twitter publicly, announced he had acquired a minority stake in the company, agreed to join its board, then backed out and made a $44 billion hostile takeover bid before attempting to pull out of the deal.
Twitter is now suing Musk in an attempt to force him to go through with his agreement, finalized in April, to buy Twitter. In his attempt to get out of the deal, Musk argues that Twitter misled him over the number of fake accounts on its platform. The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 17.
The texts reveal how Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, cheered Musk’s effort to buy and reform the platform from behind the scenes, and attempted to heal Musk’s deteriorating relationship with Parag Agrawal, Dorsey’s successor as Twitter CEO.
They also show how, at the same time as he was soliciting financing for his Twitter deal, Musk was contemplating a “Plan B” to turn the platform into a blockchain-based social network. The messages suggest Musk soured on that plan after concluding it would be unfeasible.
The texts reveal Musk’s contact list is a who’s who of business titans and media personalities, many of whom clambered to offer him their two cents as his plans for Twitter became public knowledge.
Here are the big takeaways from Elon Musk’s Twitter text messages.
Jack Dorsey’s behind-the-scenes role
The texts reveal how Dorsey had pushed for months at Twitter to grant Musk a seat on the company’s board. On March 26, after Musk sent a series of tweets criticizing Twitter’s approach to free speech and asking whether a new platform was needed, Dorsey sent Musk a series of messages urging Musk to “help” turn the company around.
“You care so much, get its importance, and could def help in immeasurable ways,” Dorsey wrote to Musk.
Dorsey told Musk that in 2021, while he was still CEO, he had tried to convince Twitter’s board to give Musk a seat, but decided to quit after the directors declined. The board considered giving Musk a seat too risky, Dorsey’s texts say. “That’s about the time I decided I needed to work to leave [Twitter], as hard as it was for me,” Dorsey told Musk in the messages. (Dorsey resigned as Twitter CEO in November 2021, and stepped down from its board in May 2022.)
Meanwhile, Musk’s tweets about the future of Twitter appeared to have spurred the company’s board to reevaluate their opposition to the billionaire taking a seat. Days later, according to the texts, Musk met Agrawal and Bret Taylor, chair of the Twitter board, for dinner at a quirky AirBnB in San Jose, California, surrounded by tractors, donkeys, and abandoned trucks.
“Great dinner :)” Musk texted a group chat afterward.
“Really great,” Taylor replied. “The donkeys and dystopian surveillance helicopters really added to the ambiance.”
“Memorable for multiple reasons. Really enjoyed it,” Agrawal said.
Two days later, Dorsey texted Musk. “I heard good things are happening,” he said.
The next day, April 4, Musk announced publicly he had been buying Twitter stock since January and had amassed an almost 10% stake in the company. The day after that, Agrawal tweeted out a statement saying Musk had agreed to join the Twitter board.
After the news was announced, Dorsey criticized the board in a message to Musk. “Thank you for joining!” he wrote. “Parag is an incredible engineer. The board is terrible. Always here to talk through anything you want.”
“I couldn’t be happier you’re doing this,” Dorsey added. “I’ve wanted it for a long time. Got very emotional when I learned it was finally possible.”
Musk’s relationship with Parag Agrawal sours
The texts provide a behind-the-scenes look at how Musk’s conversations with the Twitter CEO quickly deteriorated.
The pair had a cordial exchange where they bonded over a shared love of coding and engineering. “I have a ton of ideas, but [let me know] if I’m pushing too hard,” Musk wrote to Agrawal on April 7. “I just want Twitter to be maximum amazing.”
But two days later, after more tweets from Musk criticizing Twitter publicly, Agrawal sent him a terse message. “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,” Agrawal wrote. “Next time we speak, I’d like to […] provide you perspective on the level of internal distraction right now and how it’s hurting our ability to do work.”
“What did you get done this week?” Musk wrote back.
“I’m not joining the board,” Musk added in a followup message. “This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”
As Musk began soliciting bankers and other tech billionaires for cash to finance his takeover, the court document shows Dorsey attempting to repair the damage between Musk and Agrawal.
“I just want to make this amazing and feel bound to it,” Dorsey wrote to Musk on April 26, after getting him to agree to join a group call with Agrawal. “I won’t let this fail and will do whatever it takes. It’s just too critical to humanity.”
The subsequent messages suggest that the attempt failed. “You and I are in complete agreement,” Musk wrote to Dorsey after the call. “Parag is just moving far too slowly and trying to please people who will not be happy no matter what he does.”
“At least it became clear that you can’t work together,” Dorsey replied. “That was clarifying.”
How Musk soured on blockchain
Another big takeaway from the text messages is that Musk was weighing an ill-fated plan to turn Twitter into a blockchain-based platform, even after he had decided to mount a hostile takeover of the company.
“I have an idea for a blockchain social media system that does both payments and short text messages/links like Twitter,” Musk texted his brother, Kimbal Musk, on April 9. “You have to pay a tiny amount to register your message on the chain, which will cut out the vast majority of spam and bots. There is no throat to choke, so free speech is guaranteed.”
Musk said he had a “Plan-B” for Twitter based on the blockchain. “My Plan-B is a blockchain-based version of Twitter, where the “tweets” are embedded in the transaction as comments,” he wrote in an April 14 message to Steve Davis, the CEO of Musk’s tunnel-drilling Boring Company. “So you’d have to pay maybe 0.1 Doge per comment or repost of that comment.” Dogecoin, or Doge, is a spoof cryptocurrency, named after a meme about a dog. Musk repeatedly tweeted about investing in the digital currency in 2021, which briefly sent its value surging before it crashed.
But just 11 days later, Musk appeared to have changed his mind. Musk received a text from an intermediary who said he represented the billionaire CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried. The intermediary said Bankman-Fried could offer Musk up to $5 billion in financing for his Twitter takeover if Musk agreed to let him “do the engineering for social media blockchain integration.”
“Blockchain Twitter isn’t possible,” Musk shot back. “The bandwidth and latency requirements cannot be supported by a peer to peer network, unless those ‘peers’ are absolutely gigantic, thus defeating the purpose of a decentralized network.”
Musk still agreed to meet with Bankman-Fried, but on one condition: “So long as I don’t have to have a laborious blockchain debate.” (Bankman-Fried did not end up contributing money to Musk’s Twitter bid.)
Musk’s inbox blows up with big-name messages
As Musk’s plans for Twitter began to dominate the news cycle, his inbox began to blow up with messages from public figures—including interview requests from high-profile journalists, outreach from fixers claiming to represent politicians, and informal commitments from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors to help fund the Twitter takeover.
Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning, texted Musk on April 14. “ELON! You buying Twitter or offering to buy Twitter … Wow!” her message reads. “Now don’t you think we should sit down together face to face? This is, as the kids of today say, a ‘gangsta move’.” The message went on: “I don’t know how shareholders turn this down. Like I said, you are not like the other kids in the class.”
The court filing shows Musk soliciting billions of dollars in financing directly, via informal messages with tech CEOs. On April 20, Musk texted Oracle CEO Larry Ellison to ask if he would be interested in contributing funding toward his Twitter takeover. An hour later, Ellison had offered him a billion dollars. (Ellison followed through, according to Bloomberg.)
Other heavyweights from the business world whose messages appear in the filing include Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, media investor James Murdoch, and Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff. (Benioff is the owner and co-chair of TIME).
Musk’s inbox also filled with messages from people on the overt political right, who appeared enthused by his public statements criticizing Twitter for being too left-wing.
“Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” podcast host Joe Rogan asked in a message dated April 4.
“I will provide advice, which they may or may not choose to follow,” Musk replied.
And Ron DeSantis, the Republican Governor of Florida tipped for a run at the presidency in 2024, appeared to reach out through an intermediary. “Governor DeSantis just called me just now with ideas how to help you,” wrote Joe Lonsdale, a venture capitalist, in a message to Musk on April 16. “Let me know if you or somebody on your side wants to chat [with] him.”
“Haha cool,” Musk replied.