Twitter said Monday that it agreed to billionaire Elon Musk’s offer to acquire the social media company for an estimated $44 billion, in a deal that would turn over control to the world’s richest man, who has called for fewer restrictions on digital speech.
Bret Taylor, chairman of Twitter’s board, said the sale represented the best path forward for the company. Mr. Musk said he looked forward to unlocking the company’s full potential.
The deal, one of the largest leveraged buyouts in U.S. history, needs the approval of regulators and stockholders.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Mr. Musk said in a statement. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”
Trading in shares of Twitter was halted ahead of the company’s announcement, according to CNBC, but its stock price rose more than 5% to $51.70 during trading Monday amid rumors that a sale was imminent.
The agreement represented the end of a tumultuous courtship in which Mr. Musk refused a seat on the company’s board in favor of a takeover. Twitter said stockholders would receive $54.20 for each share they own when the proposed deal is closed, expected later this year.
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Mr. Musk, who has nearly 83 million followers on Twitter, began buying up shares of the company in January, reaching a stake of about 9%. He reportedly obtained about $25 billion in financing and will provide about $21 billion in equity for the deal.
Mr. Musk’s moves in recent days have won him praise from other prominent Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Darrell Issa of California.
“@elonmusk’s offer to buy Twitter is a good deal for shareholders and raises the prospect that the platform will be a place where free speech can thrive, not a tool for narrative enforcement,” Mr. DeSantis said in a post on Twitter.
Mr. Issa said he stood with Mr. Musk, and he called on Twitter to do the same. The lawmaker said he hopes the deal will open up more details about how Twitter has operated.
“We are about to find out how Twitter’s algorithm censors free speech and the extent that deplatforming conservatives was a core priority of previous management,” Mr. Issa tweeted.
Many conservatives also cheered the sale as a path for former President Donald Trump to return to the platform. He was banished after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Trump told Fox News that he would not rejoin Twitter and will instead stay on his own platform, TRUTH.
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“I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on TRUTH,” Mr. Trump said. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it, and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on TRUTH.”
The White House said President Biden had no comment on the sale.
“No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power large social media platforms have over our everyday lives,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Biden administration officials are closely watching the deal, according to more than half a dozen advisers to Mr. Biden, including two administration officials, CNBC reported. The report said some on Mr. Biden’s team are concerned that the Tesla CEO will allow Mr. Trump and other Republican operatives who were banned from Twitter to return to the platform.
Other Democrats and liberals raised concerns that Twitter under Mr. Musk might not aggressively police hate speech.
“Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable,” the NAACP said in a statement. “Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter. Do not allow 45 [Mr. Trump] to return to the platform. Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech.”
Media Matters for America President Angelo Carusone said a sale of Twitter to Mr. Musk would be a “victory for disinformation.”
“Twitter’s board of directors must recognize that if Musk is successful, Donald Trump, who had been banned from the platform for repeated violations of terms of service and incitement to violence, will almost certainly be replatformed in weeks,” Mr. Carusone said in a statement. “Other extremists and white supremacists will also likely have their accounts restored, too.”
Mr. Carusone said Mr. Musk’s control of Twitter would undoubtedly let loose conspiracy theories and pollute the information ecosystem with hate and lies.
Former Trump White House aide Mercedes Schlapp countered on Twitter: “The only reason that the left is terrified of Elon Musk owning Twitter is because it’s a threat to their power when people have the ability to speak freely. They have to lie, destroy and censor their political opponents in order to win.”
While Mr. Musk earned the unanimous approval of Twitter’s board, the company’s workforce may not uniformly welcome him with open arms. After Mr. Musk rejected the opportunity to join Twitter’s board of directors, CEO Parag Agrawal implored the platform’s roughly 7,500 employees to ignore the incoming noise about the billionaire.
Mr. Agrawal said in a short statement on Monday that he was satisfied with the company’s work.
“Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world,” Mr. Agrawal said. “Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important.”
Mr. Musk has teased numerous changes to the social media platform, including adding tools involving editing content and opening up the platform’s algorithms to public scrutiny.
Alongside the business challenges that lie ahead, the billionaire also will face political scrutiny as a result of the proposed transaction, which has bought him new fans and new opponents.
Liberal women’s advocacy group Ultraviolet warned about a widespread negative impact if Mr. Musk has a say in Twitter’s business operations.
“Twitter would revert into a more dangerous place for women,” Bridget Todd, Ultraviolet spokesperson, said in a statement. “Harassment and threats of violence online, especially against Black women and women of color, would skyrocket. Donald Trump would likely be replatformed, where he could continue spreading disinformation, proliferating baseless conspiracy theories, and inciting more violence to millions of people.”
Mr. Musk’s name trended as a leading topic of conversation on Twitter alongside “#RIPTwitter” before news of the proposed acquisition became public.
Mr. Musk signaled in a tweet that similar criticism would not evaporate from the platform under his control.
“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Mr. Musk said in a tweet on Monday.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.