Elon Musk's $44B Twitter Deal 'Temporarily on Hold' Over Bots

Twitter CEO keeps reiterating that bots make up less than 5% of active users, and Musk keeps questioning it.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
Elon Musk's Twitter profile in front of the Twitter logo

Twitter's future is still uncertain.

Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Elon Musk's $44 billion deal to buy Twitter is "temporarily on hold, the tech entrepreneur tweeted early Friday, alongside a link to a Reuters article about spam accounts

In another tweet two hours later, Musk confirmed that he's "still committed to the acquisition." In the intervening period, Twitter share prices took a significant hit, tumbling over 20% in premarket trading. When markets closed Friday, shares were down nearly 10% to around $40.72, a steep discount from the $54.20 per share acquisition price.

The Reuters article reported that Twitter had said in a filing that false or spam accounts represented fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users during the first quarter of 2022. 

In Musk's original tweet early Friday morning, he said the deal was on pause "pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users." When Twitter released the figure as part of its quarterly results in late April, it acknowledged the number was an estimation and the actual number of fake accounts "could be higher."

In a third tweet, later Friday, Musk said, "To find out, my team will do a random sample of 100 followers of @twitter. I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover." In a follow-up, he said, "Any sensible random sampling process is fine. If many people independently get similar results for % of fake/spam/duplicate accounts, that will be telling." 

Watch this: Elon Musk vs. Twitter Bots: How Big Is the Problem?

Musk, who has almost 93 million followers, has been critical of Twitter's moderation policies, especially its inability to get a handle on the number of bots. One of his ideas to tackle the problem is to authenticate all human users of the platform. He has also expressed his hope of relaxing Twitter rules that curb certain speech, a plan that includes reinstating the account of banned user and former President Donald Trump.

Musk's deal came together in a hurry. But under the agreed terms, if either Musk or Twitter walks away, they must pay the other party $1 billion in termination fees. However, the widening gap between the offer price and Twitter shares has led some investors to speculate whether Musk might seek a lower price, according to Reuters

Twitter didn't respond to a request for comment. In a series of tweets Friday, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said he "expects the deal to close" but added the company will be "prepared for all scenarios."

Agrawal followed up on Monday with a thread about how Twitter fights spam and bots without "inadvertently suspending real people," noting that Twitter removes over half a million spam accounts every day. He added that the company's internal estimates on the number of spam accounts on the platform were "well under 5%" for the last four quarters. 

Musk responded to the thread on Monday with a poop emoji and by questioning how bots impact advertisers. "This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter," Musk tweeted

The deal comes at a tumultuous time for Twitter. The company has struggled to expand both its user base and its ad sales as it competes with bigger social media companies. On Thursday, it announced the departure of two senior executives alongside a hiring freeze.