Elon Musk says Twitter committed fraud in dispute over fake accounts

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) – Twitter has accused Elon Musk, in a lawsuit, of abandoning his planned acquisition of the company because stock market turbulence made the deal more difficult for him. But firing back in a legal filing, Mr Musk said it was Twitter that torpedoed the US$44 billion (S$60.6 billion) acquisition.

Mr Musk argued that Twitter concealed the true number of inauthentic accounts on its platform, accusing the company of fraud. Such accounts made up at least 10 per cent of Twitter’s daily active users who see ads, Mr Musk’s legal team asserted, reiterating worries that he expressed shortly after signing the deal in April. Twitter has maintained that the figure is less than 5 per cent.

Twitter also hid the number of its users who see ads, lawyers for Mr Musk said in the filing, which was made public Thursday. During the first quarter of the year, 65 million of the company’s 229 million daily active users did not see ads, according to the filing.

Twitter said its figures were accurate.

Using Botometer, a tool designed by Indiana University to measure inauthentic accounts, analysts for Mr Musk found higher numbers of inauthentic accounts than Twitter had disclosed, according to the filing. Their analysis was preliminary and will be expanded, the filing said.

The filing, made on June 29 but kept confidential until Thursday (Aug 4), was Mr Musk’s first extensive response in what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle between the social media company and one of the richest people in the world. A trial is set for October.

In a legal filing responding to Mr Musk’s claims, Twitter said the Botometer tool used different standards from Twitter’s internal calculations and had once deemed Mr Musk’s Twitter account “highly likely to be a bot.”

Mr Musk began snapping up shares of Twitter early this year and by April had accumulated a majority stake in the company. He rejected Twitter’s offer to join its board, instead launching a swift and aggressive takeover attempt. But once Twitter agreed to the acquisition, Mr Musk began to express doubts. In July, he indicated that he no longer wanted to buy the company.

Twitter then sued Mr Musk in an attempt to force the acquisition through. Twitter has claimed he lost interest in the deal as the market slumped and shares in Twitter and the electric carmaker Tesla, which is the primary source of Mr Musk’s wealth, declined.