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Elon Musk calls out billionaire Saudi Prince over Twitter and free speech

Elon Musk. (Jerome Adamstein/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
April 15, 2022

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud said he would reject SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s $54 billion offer to buy Twitter because it doesn’t “come close to the intrinsic value” of the social media company. Musk shot back at the Middle Eastern billionaire in questioning how he views the freedom of speech.

“I don’t believe that the proposed offer by @elonmusk ($54.20) comes close to the intrinsic value of @Twitter given its growth prospects,” Al Saud tweeted. “Being one of the largest & long-term shareholders of Twitter, @Kingdom_KHC & I reject this offer.”

Musk replied, “Interesting. Just two questions, if I may. How much of Twitter does the Kingdom own, directly & indirectly? What are the Kingdom’s views on journalistic freedom of speech?”

Notably, in November 2019, the Department of Justice accused two former Twitter employees of spying for Saudi Arabia. They allegedly aided the kingdom by obtaining private information on American citizens and Saudi dissidents through their positions at Twitter.

“Acting in the United States under the direction and control of Saudi officials, the defendants are alleged to have obtained private, identifying information about users of Twitter who were critical of the Saudi government,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement at the time.  “Two of the defendants – [Ali] Alzabarah and [Ahmad] Abouammo – are former Twitter employees who violated their terms of employment to access this information in exchange for money and other benefits.  Aside from being criminal, their conduct was contrary to the free speech principles on which this country was founded.” 

At the time, Twitter praised the DOJ and called the Saudi Arabian spies “bad actors” who were trying to “undermine our service.”

“Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees,” Twitter said, according to Reuters. “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable.”

On Thursday, Musk offered to buy 100 percent of Twitter for $54.20 per share “in cash.” The tech billionaire said the deal – which tops $40 billion – is his “best and final offer.”

In an SEC filing submitted Wednesday, Musk told Twitter Chairman Bret Taylor that he would “unlock” Twitter’s “extraordinary potential.”

“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,” Musk’s letter stated. However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”