On Thursday, a giant cache of Elon Musk’s text messages became public via court documents filed in an ongoing legal dispute over whether the Tesla CEO must make good on his offer to buy Twitter. The texts, which include correspondence with such people as former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Joe Rogan, outline Musk’s shifting thinking on the deal — what he believed the company was worth, and what he would try to do with it.
In one text thread with Musk, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison expressed interest in being part of a Twitter take-private deal.
“Roughly what dollar size?” Musk asked him.
Ellison texted back: “A billion...or whatever you recommend.”
I would like to talk about Larry Ellison’s ellipses.
This ellipsis is a casual piece of grammar. It is used as you might use an ellipsis when haggling with a dude on Craigslist about the price of his used NordicTrack and you’re still 15 bucks apart.
“Whatever works for you,” Musk responded. “I’d recommend maybe $2b or more.”
To which Ellison replied a few days later, “Since you think I should come in for at least $2b...I’m in for $2b.”
Another ellipsis. Three dots that stand in for the amount of time and thought that went into Ellison concluding that, based on Musk’s recommendation, he should offer not $1 billion (the price of a few jets), but $2 billion (the gross national product of a small nation).
The text chains of Elon Musk are a rare view into how the world’s wealthiest communicate among themselves. How they think about money and power — which is definitely different from how you and I might think about money and power.
At one point, an acquaintance of Musk’s suggests that he knows another guy who is interested in buying Twitter, Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
“Does he have huge amounts of money?” Musk asks.
“Depends on how you define ‘huge’!” the acquaintance replies. He’s “worth $24B and his early employees (with shared values) bump that to $30b. I asked about how much he could in principle contribute and he said ‘∼1-3b would be easy ∼$3-8b I could do ∼$8-15b is maybe possible but would require financing.’ ”
Throughout the texts, you’ll find several mentions of words such as “fun,” as when Ellison responds to Musk’s initial invitation to part with, at minimum, $1 billion: “It would be lots of fun.”
“Why don’t you buy Twitter,” German businessman Mathias Döpfner had suggested to Musk back in March, in much the same way that a mother might suggest her bored children go play outside. “Will be fun.”
“I REALLY hope you get Twitter,” texted Joe Rogan, in much the same way that a teenager might root for his best friend to acquire a game console. “If you do, we should throw a hell of a party.”
The text chains of Elon Musk are flabbergasting, emoji-ridden displays of carefree, casual wealth, which make you realize that, for as much as you hope that the billionaires of the world are thinking soberly about how to spend their money for good, these gentlemen are as often as not just spraying a Cash Cannon in the direction of the fellow billionaires who happen to hit them up on their private cell number.
I said “gentlemen,” which is not entirely fair. A handful of women show up in these texts: Larry Ellison’s assistant. A person named Martha, whose last name is blacked out but who appears to work for Twitter. Gayle King repeatedly pops in to ask Musk for a sit-down interview, a request he seems to mostly ignore.
But for the most part, these are the masters, not mistresses, of the universe, egging on Musk to buy Twitter because of the changes he could make or the fun they could all have. “You have my sword,” promises entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, as he attempts to position himself as a trusted adviser while simultaneously (I think?) referencing Lord of the Rings.
“Please do something to fight woke-ism,” implored an acquaintance named “TJ,” whose last name is blacked out. “Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” Rogan asked.
The gender imbalance might explain why so many of these text chains revolve around the idea that what Twitter needs most is fewer guardrails against toxicity on the platform. Free speech on a social media platform means something different to rich and powerful men than it does to the average user — or more specifically, the average female user. For example, I’m pretty sure the rich/male experience of being criticized online includes a lot fewer messages from strangers declaring, “I will rape you.”
It is not yet clear how these text chains will be used in a court of law. But reading them, you realize that you have no idea which side to root for: the massive tech company, or the small clutch of tech bros who may take it over in increments of $1 billion, or perhaps $3 billion, but definitely not more than $8 billion, emoji emoji, lol.