Elon Musk was driven to take over Twitter after fearing his transgender daughter had been infected with a “woke mind virus” incubated on the social media platform.
Mr Musk had initially rushed to embrace the news when Jenna, formally known as Xavier, transitioned at age 16.
But when she later cut him out of her life entirely, he knew he had a fight on his hands, a battle which would eventually culminate in the world’s richest man buying Twitter for $44 billion.
The Tesla owner believed his child had been radically transformed by the $50,092 (£39,500) a year liberal school she attended in California.
“She went beyond socialism to being a full communist and thinking that anyone rich is evil,” Mr Musk said.
In an interview with Walter Isaacson for his upcoming biography, Elon Musk, the Space X billionaire, said he saw the same mentality had enveloped Twitter.
He believed it had been infected by a mindset that suppressed Right-wing and anti-establishment voices. His solution was to buy it.
“Unless the woke mind virus, which is fundamentally anti-science, anti-merit, and anti-human in general, is stopped, civilisation will never become multi-planetary,” Mr Musk told Mr Isaacson.
After purchasing Twitter, Mr Musk’s erratic and unpredictable leadership saw him quickly reinstate the previously banned accounts of Right-wing agitators including Donald Trump and Kanye West.
Now, an excerpt of his upcoming book, published this week in the Wall Street Journal, gives an astonishing insight into how the deal unfolded, lifting the curtain on how haphazard texts and video-gaming played into the drama.
More than 20 years ago Mr Musk started X.com, which he had envisioned as an “everything app”.
When the firm merged with Confinity to create what would become PayPal, Mr Musk pushed for the service to be called X.com. His peers were dubious, thinking it sounded like seedy adult services, and pushed for the alternative. Mr Musk lost.
Speaking recently, Mr Musk said: “If you want to just be a niche player, PayPal is a better name, But if you want to take over the world’s financial system, then X is the better name.”
With $10 billion cash in his pocket from expiring Tesla stock, Mr Musk asked the “easy question” of what product he liked. “It was Twitter”, he said.
In January 2022 he told his personal business manager, Jared Birchall, to start buying shares.
Despite his businesses, Tesla, SpaceX and Starlink, all outperforming their rivals and soaring in value, Mr Musk was still unfulfilled in April 2022.
Shivon Zilis, a director of Neuralink, Mr Musk’s AI firm and the mother of his twins, told him: “You don’t have to be in a state of war at all times. Or is it that you find greater comfort when you’re in periods of war?”
Mr Musk said his “default settings” include always wanting “to push my chips back on the table or play the next level of the game.”
He said in April: “Twitter could become what X.com should have been, and we can help save free speech in the process.”
Mr Musk called Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and the pair met for dinner with chairman of the board Bret Taylor on March 31 2022. Mr Musk was invited to join the board and he agreed.
The tech billionaire described Mr Agrawal as a “really nice guy” but said Twitter “needs a fire-breathing dragon”.
But on April 6 he told his fellow PayPal founders Luke Nosek and Ken Howery in the Tesla factory in Austin, Texas, that his involvement was “a recipe for trouble”, adding: “It’s very clear that the inmates are running the asylum”.
He argued it would be good for democracy but Mr Howey probed whether it “should be like a telephone system, where the words that go in one end come out exactly the same on the other end?”
“Or do you think this is more like a system that is governing the discourse of the world, and maybe there should be some intelligence put into the algorithm that prioritises and prioritises things?”
Mr Musk suggested charging people to be verified to eliminate bots, bring in cash and help transform it into a payments platform – fulfilling his “original vision” for X.com
Mr Musk flew to billionaire Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island, Lanai, where he spent four days contemplating what to do about Twitter.
It was here, at 3.32 am local time, that he posted the antagonistic tweet which asked whether the platform was “dying?”.
Mr Agrawal sent Mr Musk a text 90 minutes later, saying: “You are free to tweet ‘Is Twitter dying?’ or anything else about Twitter, but it’s my responsibility to tell you that it’s not helping me make Twitter better in the current context.”
At 5am local time, Mr Musk landed a second blow, replying: “What did you get done this week?”, before adding: “I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”
Mr Agrawal and Mr Taylor, the chairman of the board, both asked to talk, with the latter saying: “Do you have five minutes so I can understand the context?”
Mr Musk said: “Fixing Twitter by chatting with Parag won’t work. Drastic action is needed.”
He later said he had the realisation “I didn’t want to be co-opted and be some sort of quisling on the board.”
At that point, Mr Musk had not given up on the idea of starting a new social media company, an idea he had discussed with his brother, Kimbal.
“I think a new social-media company is needed that is based on the blockchain and includes payments,” he texted him.
Within hours he had changed his mind, he was going to buy the company outright. He texted Mr Birchall: “There is no way to fix the company as a 9% shareholder.”
Mr Musk then flew to Vancouver to link up with his girlfriend Claire Boucher, the performance artist known as Grimes.
The purpose of the trip was to introduce their son, X, to her parents. But Mr Musk was focused on the Twitter deal, so she made the trip herself.
Back in the hotel, Mr Musk texted his decision to Mr Taylor “I have decided to move forward with taking Twitter private.” The tycoon unwound by playing a video game until 5.30am, before tweeting: “I made an offer.”
Mr Musk then set about trying to find investors to finance the deal.
His brother, Kimbal, declined but billionaire Larry Ellison was more accommodating, having already signalled his interest.
He was ready to invest a billion or whatever Mr Musk decided into Twitter, something he had not used for a decade. The Tesla tycoon even had to reset Mr Ellison’s password.
Sam Bankman-Fried, who was later charged after the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange FTX, but denies wrongdoing, was also interested. Mr Musk was unenthusiastic.
Undeterred, Mr Bankman-Fried texted Mr Musk, saying he was “really excited about what you’ll do with TWTR.” He was ready to turn the $100 million worth of shares he already held in Twitter into a stake in the new company once it went private.
“Sorry, who is sending this message?” Mr Musk texted back.
Again, undeterred Mr Bankman-Fried rang Mr Musk. The 30-minute call did not go well.
“My bulls–t detector went off like red alert on a Geiger counter,” Mr Musk recalled.
“He was talking like he was on speed or Adderall, a mile a minute. I was thinking, ‘Dude, calm down.’”
Mr Bankman-Fried was equally unimpressed, thinking Mr Musk was “nuts”.
It ended with Mr Bankman-Fried neither investing in the company nor even converting his existing shares into a stake in the new enterprise.
Mr Musk raised the cash, and his plans were accepted by the Twitter board at the end of April.
Initially, the tech tycoon was euphoric. “I am very excited about finally implementing X.com as it should have been done, using Twitter as an accelerant!” he texted.
Within days the doubts emerged.
“I will need to live at Twitter HQ. This is a super tough situation. Really bumming me out,” he told Walter Isaacson.
Mr Musk’s growing belief that Twitter had been lying about its number of users was reinforced by a whistleblower and others.
He was convinced the $44bn offer was too high and throughout September was on the phone to his lawyers as Twitter went to court trying to force Mr Musk to honour the offer.
“They are s—ing bricks about the dumpster fire they’re in,” he said of the Twitter board. “I cannot believe that the judge will railroad the deal through.”
But Mr Musk’s lawyers saw things differently, warning him he would lose if the case went to court.
“Arguably, I should just pay full price, because these people running Twitter are such blockheads and idiots,” Mr Musk said.
“The potential is so great. There are so many things I could fix.” The deal was closed in October.
Unimpressed with office visit
Days before completing the formalities, Mr Musk visited Twitter’s 10-storey Art Deco in San Francisco.
There were coffee bars, a yoga studio, and a games arcade. Signs on the staff lavatories read “Gender diversity is welcome here” and cabinets were stuffed with T-shirts bearing the slogan “Stay Woke”. Staff could work from home and were allowed a “mental day of rest” every month.
Mr Musk was not impressed.
His preferred buzzword was “hardcore”.
Under the agreement, Mr Agrawal and senior Twitter executives were entitled to severance pay and to take their share options. Mr Musk was not happy, believing that they had misled him while negotiating the deal.
He proposed to bring the agreement forward by a few hours, giving him a window to sack them before they could cash in the stock options.
The deal was closed at 4.12 pm Pacific time. At the same time, Mr Musk’s assistant delivered dismissal letters to Mr Agrawal and his three deputies. Six minutes later Mr Musk’s top security man turned up at the conference room to tell them that their email was cut off and to escort them out of the building.
Mr Agrawal had tried to resign.
“But we beat him,” said Mr Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro.