A series of Elon Musk text messages were released this week as part of a lawsuit filed by Twitter against the billionaire, and they’re proving to be an illuminating look at conversations between Musk and a who’s who of celebrities, journalists, Silicon Valley elites and more . politicians.
Among the very rich and very famous with a direct line to the Tesla CEO are Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, podcaster Joe Rogan and journalist Gayle King. In texts, ultra-wealthy investors casually offer billions of dollars to help Musk’s effort. Their sheer enthusiasm for Musk’s attempt to take over Twitter also confirms what many have long suspected about billionaires’ interest in owning media companies: They know full well that controlling a company like Twitter means you can shape narratives and influence exercises.
Some, like Rogan, praised Musk’s offer to buy the social media platform. On April 4, when Musk announced a 9 percent stake in Twitter but hadn’t yet made an offer to buy it outright, Rogan asked, “Are you going to free Twitter from the censorship merry-go-round?” Weeks later, on April 23, Rogan tweeted: “I REALLY hope you get Twitter.”
Many of those messaging Musk echoed his public comments supporting the importance of free speech on Twitter. Musk has questioned the more proactive approach to content moderation that Twitter has taken in recent years — policies that right-wing Twitter users have decried as discriminatory, especially in light of Trump’s permanent suspension of Twitter in January 2021.
Just days after announcing that Twitter’s board had accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer, Benioff, who is now worth more than $6 billion, sent Musk a cryptic text about his own vision for the platform, writing on April 27: “Glad to talk about if this is interesting: The Twitter chat operating system—the city block for your digital life.”
Musk demurred, saying, “Well, I don’t own it yet.”
The potential for some power and influence on Twitter also attracted politicians and the media. The messages reveal that former Republican congressman Justin Amas wanted to speak with Musk, offering his help on “how to handle speech and moderation.” According to a text message from Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — widely seen as a possible GOP candidate for the 2024 presidential race — backed Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Lonsdale floated the idea for Musk and DeSantis to chat.
Other notables, such as Hoffman, discussed helping Musk buy Twitter. “$2 billion?” Musk floated after Hoffman asked how much he and his VC partners could throw in.
“Big. Probably doable,” replied Hoffman, who ultimately did not invest in the deal.
The messages were revealed in court as part of pretrial discovery in Twitter’s breach-of-contract lawsuit against Musk, which was filed after Musk backed out of a deal to buy Twitter in July, alleging the company had misled him about the number of spam bots. and fake accounts on its platform. Twitter, for its part, maintains that Musk declined the deal not because of the bots but because of the slump in both Tesla and Twitter’s stock. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 17 in Delaware District Court.
The texts reveal that in the weeks after Musk signed the deal with Twitter in late April, declaring his desire to protect free speech on the platform, friends and associates eagerly offered (sometimes unsolicited) advice about the direction that should follow Twitter with Musk at the helm. . A person identified as BL Lee – it is not clear who he is – suggested that Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist of Uber fame, should be appointed CEO of Twitter. At one point, Musk’s texts quoted reporter Gayle King as saying, “Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining Twitter’s board if my offer goes through.”
Many people tried to make introductions to others hoping to get Musk’s ear. Among those most determined to meet Musk was billionaire philanthropist Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
The initial volley came from Will MacAskill, an Oxford philosopher and one of the founders of the effective altruism movement, whose ideas Musk has said closely aligned with his own. MacAskill revealed that Bankman-Fried had been interested in buying Twitter for a while and was interested in a “potential joint effort.”
“Does he have huge sums of money?” Musk asked.
“Depends on how you define ‘huge’!” replied MacAskill. “It’s worth $24 billion and its first employees (with shared values) are taking it to $30 billion.” Musk, the world’s richest man, is currently worth about $252 billion, according to Forbes.
Many of the text conversations between Musk and his partners run in this vein. Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who contributed $1 billion to the Twitter deal, tells Musk in a text that he’s ready to do “whatever you suggest.”
Bankman-Fried, also a proponent of effective altruism, has previously tweeted about how a decentralized Twitter living on the blockchain could work and monetize. In recent years, he has also become a major Democratic donor and lobbying in Washington for changes to cryptocurrency regulations.
MacAskill, the philosopher, noted to Musk that it would be “easy” for Bankman-Fried to drop $1 billion to $3 billion — or even contribute as much as $15 billion, but that could require financing.
While the billionaires in Musk’s texts showed nothing but excitement at his offer, many others — including Twitter users and free speech advocates — expressed wariness, if not outright concern. Twitter is a platform used by hundreds of millions of users – although Musk may dispute that – and, in particular, is used by journalists to share and discuss the news of the day. For them, the prospect of a Twitter led by an outspoken billionaire who is a frequent critic of the media and journalists was cause for concern.
But some media moguls didn’t dismiss the idea outright. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of German media group Axel Springer, which owns outlets such as Business Insider and Politico, even offered to run Twitter for Musk if he bought it. “It would be a real contribution to democracy,” Döpfner wrote in late March, weeks before Musk made an offer to buy the site.
Even the Murdochs, offspring of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, make an appearance in the texts. On April 26, James Murdoch — Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son and a director on Tesla’s board — told Musk he would call “when some of the dust settles.” His wife, Catherine Murdoch, a philanthropist and activist whose politics differ from her father-in-law’s, asked Musk if he would bring back Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who left the company in 2021 to focus on other projects. “Jack doesn’t want to come back,” Musk replied. However, Dorsey exchanged several text messages with Musk about their shared vision for an improved Twitter.
These behind-the-scenes exchanges reveal how quick and easy it is for a relatively small circle of financial elites to drop billions to help buy a public company that is used by hundreds of millions of people and serves as a place where individuals gather to find a community around common hobbies, beliefs or goals. It is a powerful tool for spreading news and information. The billionaires’ interest in helping to buy Twitter wasn’t just about wanting a piece of the equity pie. The texts suggest that, for many in Musk’s elite circle, it was important to have a say in what Twitter would look like in the future — a “free speech” town square where they would continue to comfortably wield the loudest loudspeakers.