Breaking Down the Wild Week After Elon Musk Bought Twitter for $44 Billion

Get busy tweeting or get busy fleeing?

Twitter users have been clashing for months—let alone this past week—over what Elon Musk buying the social media platform, which he affectionately calls a "digital town square," would mean. When he first declared his intent to buy the business, the billionaire SpaceX founder declared people should have a space to be able to freely express their views with as little interference and oversight as possible.

Which, to anyone who had ever been the target of hate speech, threats, impersonators or other behavior that historically counted as a Twitter violation, sounded like garbage. But to those who had felt unfairly censored or unrepresented by the Twitter algorithm, Musk's proposed involvement was a promise of brighter days ahead.

On Oct. 27, Musk officially closed the deal for $44 billion with a vow that he wouldn't let Twitter become a "free-for-all hellscape."

And, depending on who you ask, Twitter either promptly became a free-for-all hellscape, or was finally set free from the shackles of fascistic content moderation.

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"the bird is freed," Musk tweeted Oct. 27.

Once the new management became a reality, some famous names, including Debra Messing, Shonda Rhimes and Sara Bareilles pointedly announced that they were done with the platform.

"Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned," Rhimes tweeted Oct. 29. "Bye." The prolific TV producer's account is still live, though. Messing, before deactivating entirely, wrote, "YUP. Goodbye Twitter. Instagram I'm all in."

Shonda Rhimes, Twitter
Twitter

However, if they don't declare their rationale, determining which celebrities purposely deleted their accounts or otherwise weaned themselves off the site expressly for this reason will remain an imperfect science. (For instance, Musk's ex-girlfriend Amber Heard's account is now gone, but she didn't announce her departure. Her rep has not yet returned E! News' request for comment.)

But needless to say, whoever jumped ship on day one missed a lot. Here's what happened when Musk finally bought Twitter:

Elon Musk
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

How long has Elon Musk wanted to buy Twitter?

Mind you, this has been in the works for the majority of 2022.

Musk, 51, started buying Twitter shares on Jan. 31, according to a timeline of the sale compiled by the Associated Press. On March 26, he said he was giving "serious thought" to the idea of starting his own social media company, but the next day he reportedly started talking to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and other executives about joining the board of directors. (Dorsey stepped down as CEO last year but remained on the board, exiting May 25 as part of his own previously announced plan.)

On April 4, an SEC filing showed Musk had amassed a 9 percent stake in Twitter. The next day, Twitter announced he would be joining the board pending a background check and formal approval, effective April 9.

Instead, Musk tweeted a list of the most-followed people on Twitter (he was No. 8 at the time, with 81 million followers; former President Barack Obama was No. 1 with 131 million), with the comment, "Most of these 'top' accounts tweet rarely and post very little content. Is Twitter dying?"

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The following day, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted that Musk wasn't joining the board after all, but since he had become the company's largest shareholder, they'd "remain open to his input."

Finally, an April 14 SEC filing revealed that Musk had offered to buy Twitter outright. In a letter to board chairman Bret Taylor, Musk wrote that he invested because he believed it could be "the platform for free speech around the globe." But, he continued, "since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company."

"Twitter has extraordinary potential," Musk concluded. "I will unlock it."

Then, on April 25, Twitter announced that Musk's offer to buy the company for $44 billion had been accepted.

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How did the deal for Elon Musk to buy Twitter eventually go through?

That was only the beginning, however, as Musk then started to publicly question whether Twitter had been transparent about just how many fake accounts were populating the platform. On May 13, he said the sale was "temporarily on hold."

And by July 8, Musk said he no longer planned to buy Twitter. Four days later, Twitter filed suit to push the deal through. Musk countersued and a judge ruled that the two sides would see each other in court.

In September, Musk doubled down on his position that Twitter was hiding something after the company's former head of security went public with allegations that the company was woefully lacking when it came to combating the spread of misinformation and rooting out fake accounts. (The whistleblower, Peiter Zatko, testified before Congress in September; a Twitter spokesperson disputed his testimony, calling it "riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies." The company maintained it Zatko had been fired for poor performance and an internal investigation had found his allegations lacked merit.)

Elon Musk
Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

"Needless to say," Musk's attorney wrote in a Sept. 15 court filing obtained by NBC News, "the newest revelations make undeniably clear that the Musk Parties have the full right to walk away from the Merger Agreement—for numerous independently sufficient reasons."

And yet after all that, Musk told Twitter in a letter sent Oct. 4 that he would buy the company after all for the previously agreed-upon price of $44 billion. A judge postponed the trial date and gave the two sides until Oct. 28 to finalize their terms.

Elon Musk, Twitter Office
Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP via Getty Image

What did Elon Musk do first after buying Twitter?

"Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in!" Musk tweeted Oct. 26 alongside a video of him carrying an actual sink through the door of the company's San Francisco office. (Hey, you can't expect a father of 10 not to bring the dad jokes.)

In another missive sent Oct. 27, he sought to assure advertisers that they would still want to have a presence on Twitter moving forward, that he wanted the platform to be "warm and welcoming for all."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in! <a href="https://t.co/D68z4K2wq7">pic.twitter.com/D68z4K2wq7</a></p>&mdash; Elon Musk (@elonmusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1585341984679469056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 26, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

What happened on Twitter right after Elon Musk closed the deal?

According to the Network Contagion Research Institute, use of the n-word on Twitter surged by almost 500 percent in the 12 hours after Musk was announced as the new owner. On Oct. 28 the Washington Post reported that a tweet containing just one word—a racial slur in all-caps—that was posted the night before was still up 16 hours later and had been liked more than 5,000 times.

"I'm shocked and appalled at some of the 'free speech' I've seen on this platform since its acquisition," Toni Braxton tweeted Oct. 28. "Hate speech under the veil of 'free speech' is unacceptable; therefore I am choosing to stay off Twitter as it is no longer a safe space for myself, my sons and other POC."

LeBron James, who has 52.4 million followers, weighed in Oct. 29, tweeting, "I dont know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter. But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF. So many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I dont know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter. But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF. So many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech. <a href="https://t.co/Sy0jvXIBnC">https://t.co/Sy0jvXIBnC</a></p>&mdash; LeBron James (@KingJames) <a href="https://twitter.com/KingJames/status/1586431561041293312?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 29, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Even if you didn't see one of these posts, you could bet that someone you were following had. (And some admitted to searching for hateful content, suspecting it would be there, in order to call it out.)

Yoel Roth, Twitter's Head of Safety and Integrity, tweeted Oct. 29, "Our Rules prohibit Hateful Conduct. This includes targeting people with dehumanizing content and slurs. This DOESN'T mean we have a list of words that are always banned. Context matters. For example, our policies are written to protect reclaimed speech."

He attributed the spike in slurs and other hate speech to a concerted trolling effort, tweeting that more than 50,000 of the offensive posts came from only 300 accounts. "Nearly all of these accounts are inauthentic," Roth wrote. "We've taken action to ban the users involved in this trolling campaign—and are going to continue working to address this in the days to come to make Twitter safe and welcoming for everyone."

Musk also tweeted, "Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes." He added, "To be super clear, we have not yet made any changes to Twitter's content moderation policies."

What happened to Twitter employees after Elon Musk took over?

Reminiscent of King Charles III's long-term plans for the royal family, Musk also envisioned a slimmed-down Twitter, detailing in a proposal to prospective investors reported on by the Washington Post that he planned to downsize from 7,500 employees to a little over 2,000.

Upon arrival he fired Agrawal, the CEO, as well as Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and Chief Legal Counsel Vijaya Gadde. An Oct. 31 SEC filing showed that Musk had fired the board of directors, making him the board's sole member. (Later that night, he showed up at Heidi Klum's annual Halloween bash in New York with his mom, model Maye Musk.)

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And the mass layoffs got underway the night of Nov. 3. According to NBC News, employees received an email informing them that they'd receive another confirming whether or not they still worked there.

"We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company's success moving forward," the email read, per NBC.

The company said the downsizing is "an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path."

Why does Elon Musk want Twitter users to pay for little blue checkmarks?

The Verge reported Oct. 30 that Musk wanted to start charging for verification—aka the blue checkmark you'll find on most accounts belonging to anyone of renown, including public figures and celebs, as well as a host of businesses, journalists, activists, content creators and others who went through the process of confirming their identifies with the company and gave a reason as to why they shouldn't be mistaken for someone else.

Currently you can subscribe to Twitter Blue for $4.99 a month to access various features. According to The Verge, Musk proposed hiking the fee to $19.99 per month, and the rate would include a blue check. Staffers reportedly had until Nov. 7 to get the program up and running—and existing verified users would have 90 days to sign up or lose their checks.

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"$20 a month to keep my blue check? F--k that, they should pay me," author (and admittedly satisfied Tesla driver) Stephen King tweeted Oct. 31. "If that gets instituted, I'm gone like Enron."

Musk tweeted back later that night, "We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?" He added, "I will explain the rationale in longer form before this is implemented. It is the only way to defeat the bots & trolls."

All sorts of sarcasm and outrage from both verified and unverified users ensued, joined by Musk supporters and assorted antagonists of blue-checkmarked Twitter who mocked the likes of King for refusing to pay a piddling fee for the privilege.

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Is Elon Musk going to let banned accounts back on Twitter?

"If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if Trump is coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!" Musk tweeted Oct. 31.

His dedicated critics were against the sale from the beginning, the assumption (later confirmed by Musk himself) that he'd reverse the 2021 ban on former President Donald Trump serving as their proof that the Tesla CEO was unfit to run this company.

But when it comes to the reinstatement of Trump's account, it turns out folks are going to have to wait a bit longer for the big reveal.

"Twitter will not allow anyone who was de-platformed for violating Twitter rules back on platform until we have a clear process for doing so," Musk tweeted Nov. 2, "which will take at least a few more weeks."

Trump, meanwhile, has started his own social media platform, Truth Social, and he told Fox News in April that he wasn't interested in returning to Twitter even if he could. Upon news of Musk's purchase, however, the former president did post on his own site Oct. 28 that he was "very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands."

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How many people have stopped using Twitter since Elon Musk bought the company?

Bot Sentinel, which tracks inauthentic Twitter activity, estimated that the platform lost more than 1 million users between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, a combination of suspensions (497,000) and deactivations (877,000), according to MIT Technology Review.

The celebrity departure notices trailed off after a few days, though stay tuned for what happens when/if the paid verification plan goes into effect.

On Nov. 3, Musk's bio by then reading "Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator," he summed up the state of content affairs with a pretty vintage-Musk tweet, sent at 1:13 a.m. PT: "Because it consists of billions of bidirectional interactions per day, Twitter can be thought of as a collective, cybernetic super-intelligence..."

Ten minutes later: "...with a lot of room for improvement."

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