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Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The maverick billionaire Elon Musk says he wants to buy Twitter - the whole thing. It's a blockbuster move by Musk, who is one of Twitter's most dedicated users and also one of its most persistent critics. We're joined now by NPR's David Gura, who's been following this morning's developments. Hi, David.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So, David, what exactly is Musk proposing here?

GURA: Well, Elon Musk lays out his proposal in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He announced it with a tweet. I made an offer, he wrote, with a link to the filing. Musk is Twitter's largest shareholder, and he wants to buy the rest of Twitter's stock. He says he's willing to pay $43 billion, which is a premium for the company - about 15% more than it's trading at right now. You know, appended to this filing is a letter. Musk wrote the chairman of Twitter's board. And in that letter, he says Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company. And Musk goes on to argue in that letter that the company has, as he puts it, extraordinary potential, and he will unlock it.

FADEL: Wow, a $43 billion offer. Does Twitter have potential that can be unlocked?

GURA: Well, Twitter has not been as wildly successful as some of the other big social media companies. I mean, just compare it to Facebook, for instance. Twitter has just over 200 million users, which is significantly less than what Facebook has - more than 2 billion. But many of Twitter's users are dedicated. They use it fanatically, like Musk does himself. On Twitter, he has more than 81 million followers. But he's made a point that there are a lot of users who could be using the site even more. Just a few days ago, Musk posted a list of the 10 most-followed accounts on Twitter, including former President Obama, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry. And Musk suggested they tweet rarely and post very little content. And he ended that tweet by asking, quite provocatively, is Twitter dying?

FADEL: So what are Musk's other criticisms of Twitter?

GURA: It continues to be this roiling debate about free speech and social media and the role companies could play or should play in policing these platforms. Elon Musk has called himself a free speech absolutist, and this is something he also addressed in that letter to the chairman of Twitter's board. Musk wrote, I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy. Right now, Musk argues, Twitter is not living up to that potential.

FADEL: So Musk is known for his antics and provocative comments and tweets. Should this offer be taken seriously?

GURA: Well, we'll see. I mean, it's been less than two weeks since Elon Musk became Twitter's largest shareholder. He bought just over 9% of the company. And then Twitter invited him on to its board. After that, there was a lot of speculation about what that would mean for how the company is run. And then there was a surprise announcement, just a few days later, from Twitter's still fairly new CEO that Musk had changed his mind. He wasn't going to join the board. So there's a lot of theater here. This is a takeover attempt, and Twitter has to take this bid seriously. Forty-three billion dollars is well over what Twitter is valued at currently. Musk's offering to buy it at a premium, as I said.

And there's some history here worth revisiting. Elon Musk, who is, of course, the founder and the CEO of Tesla, once said on Twitter, back in 2018, am considering taking Tesla private at $420 - funding secured. That tweet got him into a lot of trouble. And Tesla, of course, is still a public company. The last thing I'm going to say is we got to keep in mind Musk is the richest person in the world. He is worth north of $250 billion. So there is no question $43 billion for Twitter is something that Elon Musk could afford.

FADEL: Wow. NPR's David Gura, thanks.

GURA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.