Tech billionaire Elon Musk abruptly declined to join Twitter’s board of directors this weekend after the company previously announced his appointment. The Tesla CEO’s about-face came as a particular surprise, given that he spent the weekend spitballing to his 81 million followers various modifications to Twitter’s platform and business model. Musk’s board induction was slated to occur on Saturday, but “Elon shared that same morning that he will no longer be joining,” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said in a message to the company, which he posted publicly Sunday night. Twitter “will remain open” to receiving input from Musk, who, as of last week, is the company’s largest shareholder, he noted. (Per The Wall Street Journal, Musk said he may still be involved in Twitter strategy.)
Neither Musk, who reportedly requested a spot on Twitter’s board before the company offered him one, nor Agrawal explained the reasoning behind the unforeseen development. However, Musk electing to turn down Twitter’s invitation allows him to grow his current 9.2% stake in the company beyond the 14.9% limit he would have been confined to if he had joined the board. Musk’s decision effectively “opens the door to a hostile takeover,” CNBC pointed out. When Musk first revealed his Twitter stake to the Securities and Exchange Commission, he filed as a passive investor and signaled that he had no plan to influence the company’s operations, per Bloomberg News. He later refiled an activist-investor form to avoid running afoul of the SEC.
In tweets over the weekend that he subsequently scrubbed, Musk proposed granting subscribers to Twitter Blue—the site’s $2.99-per-month “premium features” service—an authentication checkmark. In another pitch, he tweeted a poll asking if Twitter should drop the w in its name, perhaps referencing the Silicon Valley trend of intentionally misspelled brand monikers à la Flickr, Lyft, and Tumblr. He also asked his fans whether Twitter was “dying” and if its San Francisco headquarters should be turned into a shelter for people without homes. Such barbs are not without precedent: Musk made apparent his distaste for some of the site’s policies last year, raising questions about, as he put it, “West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.” Less than two weeks before the public disclosure of Musk’s Twitter investment, the billionaire appeared to question Twitter’s commitment to free speech and said he was giving “serious thought” to creating a new social media platform.
In Agrawal’s note, the CEO said that he believes a Musk-less board of directors is “for the best” and warned that Twitter will face an onslaught of “distractions” in the coming days. But perhaps the biggest distraction might be Musk himself: In the past, he has shown a propensity for pulling P.R. stunts by proposing revolutionary changes in a particular industry that he then fails to deliver on. With three separate ideas, Musk promised to solve the Los Angeles area’s traffic problems by building high-speed underground tunnels capable of transporting individual cars. But aside from a single 1.1-mile test tunnel, Musk’s SoCal Hyperloop dream has stalled out.
In Las Vegas, Musk’s Boring Company received some $50 million from the city’s Convention and Visitors Authority to build tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center that would turn a 20-minute walk into a one-minute ride capable of transporting more than 4,000 people per hour. But that vision has also yet to fully pan out, as convention-goers learned during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, when cars inside Musk’s extremely narrow tunnel were stuck in a crawl of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
As for Musk’s U-turn on joining Twitter’s board, it remains unclear if his plans will go the way of the California tunnels—nowhere—or if they have only hit a temporary holdup inside a metaphorical Boring Company tunnel. Perhaps his foray is yet to come.
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