West News Wire: Elon Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur, has agreed to buy Twitter Inc. for $44 billion, using one of the world’s largest leveraged buyout deals to take private a 16-year-old social networking platform that has become a focal point of public debate and a flashpoint in the debate over online free speech.

Investors will receive $54.20 for each Twitter share they own, according to a statement released by the business on Monday. The price is 38% higher than the stock’s close on April 1, the last business day before Musk revealed a large interest in the company, causing a stock boom. The announcement caused a stop in Twitter shares.

Musk, who has more than 83 million followers on Twitter, began amassing a 9 percent stake in the company in January. By March, he had ramped up his criticism of Twitter, alleging that the company’s algorithms are biased and feeds cluttered with automated junk posts. He also suggested Twitter’s user growth was inflated by bots. After rejecting an invitation to join the company’s board, on April 14 he offered to take Twitter private, saying he’d make the platform a bastion of free speech and dropping other hints about the changes he’d make as owner.

The ideas verged from the practical say, letting users edit tweets and combating the spread of bots to the peculiar, such as a proposal to turn the company’s San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter.

“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,” Musk said in the statement on Monday. “Twitter has tremendous potential I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”

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The deal was unanimously approved by the company’s board, and is expected to be completed later this year. Musk secured $25.5 billion of debt and margin loan financing and will provide about $21 billion in equity to fund the deal, according to the statement.

Going private marks a dramatic turnabout for a company that got its start as a messaging service for sharing your status updates with friends, but quickly blossomed into a way for people to broadcast short posts of 140 characters or less to a public following. Twitter caught fire among politicians, celebrities and journalists and took its place alongside social media stalwarts Facebook and YouTube as a standard bearer of a new, more interactive way of using the web that came to be known as Web 2.0.

Following its birth in 2006, the company weathered a series of crises, including management upheaval that saw the removal of co-founder Jack Dorsey in Twitter’s early days and his eventual return in 2015. After an initial public offering in 2013, the company considered selling itself in 2016, drawing the interest of companies from Walt Disney Co. to Salesforce Inc. Dorsey in 2020 tangled with an activist investor that forced Twitter to set specific growth targets and add greater board accountability. That served as a catalyst for Dorsey’s eventual second departure so he could focus on his other company, the digital-payments company Block Inc.

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