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Twitter: Musk tries to cancel the wedding

Will Twitter be able to force him down the aisle?

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Elon Musk has confirmed what so many have suspected for months, said T.C. Sottek in The Verge: "He doesn't have what it takes to run Twitter." The world's richest man officially announced last week he would seek to back out of his $44 billion deal to acquire his favorite social media company. The predictable move follows weeks of "obvious troll behavior" by Musk — including ridiculing Twitter's employees and management — as he seemingly tried to justify his buyer's remorse. Twitter is calling his bluff and taking him to court to demand he go through with the purchase forged in April, which it believes offers good value to the firm's stockholders. Musk claims he can renege on the grounds that "Twitter won't give him data necessary" to determine the percentage of "bots" — fake users — on the platform. "This is weak, crybaby stuff." The genius who gave us Tesla and SpaceX had promised to bring similar, world-changing energy to Twitter, saying he could "unlock" Twitter's potential as a free-speech platform for "the future of human civilization." Instead, he ends up looking like a fraud who "wrote a check his myth couldn't cash."

The showdown is far from over, said Cara Lombardo and Robert Wall in The Wall Street Journal. Musk provided no evidence that Twitter has a major bot problem, and corporate law experts say Musk is on shaky legal ground for canceling the deal. But "the question remains whether it is really possible to force the eccentric billionaire to buy a company he doesn't want to own." And what will happen if Musk is ordered to complete the purchase and defiantly says no? 

The original deal did include one escape hatch for Musk: a $1 billion payment to Twitter if he didn't complete the purchase, said Matt Levine in Bloomberg. So "the possible outcomes of litigation are extremely binary: He pays $44 billion and buys Twitter, or he pays zero to $1 billion and does not." Forcing an unwilling, vindictive Musk to take ownership of a major social media company would be terrible for Twitter's thousands of employees, "the users, and the world." But would it be worse than "letting the world's richest man get out of a deal for a nominal fee because he got bored with it?" A much fairer outcome would be for Musk to settle out of court and pay Twitter around $15 billion in compensation for the damage this fiasco has done to its market value. But "Elon Musk is rich, weird, and stubborn," so predicting what he'll do next is impossible.

Having been left at the altar by Musk, Twitter now faces the question of "how much worse off it will be," said Dan Gallagher and Laura Forman in The Wall Street Journal. Musk's "initial interest made Twitter seem like an undervalued darling," but his attacks on the platform's employees, integrity, and policies have tarnished it and left lingering questions. Three key executives have left since the merger was announced, and employee morale has sunk to new depths. This much is clear: Twitter is "a husk of the social media company Musk once coveted."

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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