Twitter shows its math on bots as Musk renews threat to walk from acquisition deal

Elon Musk arrives for the Axel Springer Award in Berlin in 2020.
Will Elon Musk make good on his deal to buy Twitter? Sources around him say he is once again balking, but the social media company says the sale is still on.
(Hannibal Hanschke / Associated Press)

Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of Twitter may fall apart over his doubts that the company is accurately reporting the number of spam bots on the service, according to a report, even as company executives reiterated that the number is low and tried to better explain how they calculate the figures.

Twitter has repeatedly said that spam bots represent less than 5% of its total user base. Musk, meanwhile, has complained that the number is much higher and has threatened to walk away from his agreement to buy the company for $44 billion until he gets confirmation about Twitter’s bot percentage.

Musk’s team has concluded that Twitter can’t verify its figures on the spam accounts and has “stopped engaging” in discussions around funding the deal, the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. This issue has put the acquisition by the Tesla chief executive “in serious jeopardy,” the newspaper said, citing the people.


“Twitter has and will continue to cooperatively share information with Mr. Musk to consummate the transaction in accordance with the terms of the merger agreement,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg News after the Post published its story. “We believe this agreement is in the best interest of all shareholders. We intend to close the transaction and enforce the merger agreement at the agreed price and terms.”

Twitter leadership said there would be no renegotiation of the $44-billion price Elon Musk agreed to pay, despite his claim the deal was “on hold.”

Twitter shares fell about 4% in extended trading after the newspaper’s report. The stock has declined 10% this year, closing at $38.79 on Thursday in New York.

Earlier Thursday, Twitter executives said in a media briefing that the company manually reviews thousands of accounts each quarter to determine the 5% spam bot number, and estimates that the actual number is well below what’s disclosed in filings. The company also uses internal data to confirm the bot number, including information such as IP addresses or phone numbers, to determine whether an account is run by a human.

Musk has demanded an audit of Twitter’s estimates. Twitter said it has been sharing some data with Musk and working with his team within the confines of the purchase agreement. An executive declined to comment on what information was being shared with Musk but said that the company does not share internal data with outsiders because of privacy concerns.

Twitter previously gave Musk access to the company’s “fire hose” of public tweets, but that only includes public tweet data, not private account data.

A Twitter executive cautioned that it wouldn’t be possible for an outsider to accurately estimate the number of bots on the service without that information. The executive asked not to be identified by name.

Also Thursday, Twitter laid off 30% of its talent acquisition team, according to the Wall Street Journal. The cut of fewer than 100 employees represented less than 2% of the company’s workforce.