A trove of Elon Musk’s text messages was released this week as part of a lawsuit Twitter has filed against the billionaire, and it’s proving to be an illuminating look inside conversations between Musk and a who’s who of celebrities, journalists, Silicon Valley elites, and even politicians.
Among the very rich and very famous who have a direct line to the Tesla CEO are Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, podcaster Joe Rogan, and broadcast journalist Gayle King. In texts, ultrawealthy investors casually offer billions of dollars to assist in Musk’s effort. Their sheer enthusiasm for Musk’s bid to take over Twitter also confirms what many have long suspected about billionaires’ interest in owning media companies: They’re keenly aware that controlling a company like Twitter means being able to shape narratives and wield influence.
Some, like Rogan, praised Musk’s bid 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 liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” Weeks later, on April 23, Rogan texted, “I REALLY hope you get Twitter.”
Many of those texting Musk echoed his public comments arguing the importance of free speech on Twitter. Musk has taken issue with 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 Twitter suspension in January 2021.
Within days of the announcement that the Twitter board had accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer, Benioff, who is currently worth more than $6 billion, sent Musk a cryptic text about his own vision for the platform, writing on April 27, “Happy to talk about it if this is interesting: Twitter conversational OS—the townsquare for your digital life.”
Musk demurred, saying, “Well I don’t own it yet.”
The potential for some power and influence over Twitter attracted politicians and the media, too. The messages reveal that former Republican Rep. Justin Amash wanted to talk to 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 potential GOP nominee for the 2024 presidential race — threw his support behind Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Lonsdale floated the idea of having Musk and DeSantis chat.
Other acquaintances, like Hoffman, discussed helping Musk buy Twitter. “$2B?” Musk floated, after Hoffman asked how much he and his VC partners could throw in.
“Great. Probably doable,” replied Hoffman, who did not end up investing in the deal.
The messages were revealed in court as part of the pretrial discovery process in Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk for breach of contract, filed after Musk backed out of the deal to buy Twitter in July, claiming that the company had misled him on the number of spam bots and fake accounts on its platform. Twitter, for its part, is arguing that Musk reneged on the deal not due to bots but because of a downturn in both Tesla and Twitter stocks. The trial is set to begin on October 17 in the Delaware Chancery Court.
The texts reveal that in the weeks after Musk inked the Twitter deal in late April, professing his desire to protect free speech on the platform, his friends and associates eagerly offered (sometimes unsolicited) advice on the direction Twitter should take with Musk at the helm. One person identified as BL Lee — it’s unclear who that is — suggested that Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist of Uber fame, be appointed CEO of Twitter. At one point, Musk texts broadcast journalist Gayle King, “maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds.”
Multiple people sought to make introductions to others hoping to have Musk’s ear. Among the most determined to meet Musk was billionaire philanthropist Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the 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 align closely with his own. MacAskill revealed that Bankman-Fried had been interested in buying Twitter for a while and was interested in a “possible joint effort.”
“Does he have huge amounts of money?” Musk asked.
“Depends on how you define ‘huge’!” MacAskill replied. “He’s worth $24B, and his early employees (with shared values) bump that to $30B.” Musk, the richest person in the world, is currently worth around $252 billion, according to Forbes.
Several of the text conversations between Musk and his associates 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 prepared to commit “whatever you recommend.”
Bankman-Fried, also a proponent of effective altruism, has previously tweeted about how a decentralized Twitter that lives on the blockchain might function, and how it could be monetized. In recent years, he has also become a major Democratic donor and has been lobbying in Washington for changes in cryptocurrency regulations.
MacAskill, the philosopher, noted to Musk that it would be “easy” for Bankman-Fried to throw in $1 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 enthusiasm at his bid, many others — including Twitter users and free speech advocates — expressed wariness if not outright alarm. Twitter is a platform used by hundreds of millions of users — though Musk might dispute that — and, in particular, is used by journalists to share and discuss the news of the day. To them, the prospect of a Twitter led by an outspoken billionaire who is a frequent critic of the media and of journalists was cause for concern.
But some media moguls did not reject the idea out of hand. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of German media group Axel Springer, which owns media outlets such as Business Insider and Politico, even offered to run Twitter for Musk if he bought it. “Would be a real contribution to democracy,” texted Döpfner in late March, weeks before Musk put in an offer to buy the site.
Even the Murdochs, scions of conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch, make an appearance in the texts. On April 26, James Murdoch — the younger son of Rupert Murdoch and a director on Tesla’s board — told Musk that he will call “when some of the dust settles.” His wife, Kathryn Murdoch, a philanthropist and activist whose politics differ from her father-in-law’s, asked Musk if he’ll 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. Dorsey did, however, exchange several text messages with Musk on 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 moneyed elites to throw in billions to help buy a public company that’s 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’s a powerful tool for disseminating news and information.
Billionaires’ interest in helping buy Twitter wasn’t just about wanting a piece of the pie in terms of equity. 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’ll conveniently continue to have the biggest megaphones.