Elon Musk once presented his proposed buyout of Twitter as far more than a business deal. In April he claimed the social network—tiny compared with Facebook or Instagram but beloved by journalists, politicians, and Elon Musk—was “the de facto town square” and crucial to the cause of global freedom. Musk said Twitter Inc. had been overrun by spammers, was unfairly biased against conservatives, and had been infected by something he called “the woke mind virus.” It was these important factors, he said, not the profit motive, that led to his offer of $54.20 per share, a significant premium on the company’s share price at the time. “I don’t care about the economics at all,” he said at the TED conference on the day he made his offer.
Then the stock market dropped, Musk’s net worth contracted, and suddenly he cared very much about the economics of the deal. In a July 8 letter, his lawyers announced he was pulling out of the acquisition in part because, they claimed, Twitter had understated the level of spam on its platform. The company’s board responded by pointing to a binding merger agreement that gives Musk no such wiggle room. Four days later, Twitter sued to try to force him to pay the agreed-upon price. The legal battle, in which a judge will decide whether Musk has to follow through with his offer, promises to be a continuation of the reality showesque circus that’s surrounded the buyout. Like everything about Musk lately, it’s a weird edge case, and who’ll win remains to be seen. But it’s already clear who’s lost: everyone but Musk himself.