The sticky transition of Twitter’s ownership to Elon Musk took a new turn, with the Tesla CEO claiming he was putting the deal “on hold” over concerns about spam bots. Twitter’s shares plummeted more than 9 percent Friday after Musk’s comment.
Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill are sounding alarms this week over the possibility that Donald Trump could return to Twitter.
This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar, Chris Mills Rodrigo and Ines Kagubare. Subscribe here.
Musks says Twitter deal ‘on hold’
Elon Musk was at his most cryptic Friday, tweeting early in the morning that his $44 billion deal to acquire Twitter was “on hold” until he determines what percentage of accounts on the platform are spam or fake.
Many onlookers were quick to point out that putting a deal this advanced into the process “on hold” is simply not something that can be done by someone who has signed a binding contract to buy up all outstanding shares.
Still, the episode has darkened the clouds surrounding the deal and comes a day after an announcement that two Twitter executives would be leaving the company.
CEO Parag Agrawal broke his (relative) silence to explain the decisions in a thread Friday, saying “we need to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for Twitter.”
Musk cleared the air a little bit two hours after his first tweet, reminding his more than 90 million followers that he is “still committed to acquisition.” Those assurances are unlikely to keep every party calm.
Trump’s Twitter return worries Dems
Democrats on Capitol Hill are sounding alarms this week over the possibility that former President Trump could return to Twitter, warning that providing him with such a powerful megaphone could lead to violence on par with last year’s Capitol riot.
Trump was banned “permanently” from Twitter on Jan. 8, 2021, just two days after a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed effort to overturn President Biden’s electoral win.
But with billionaire Elon Musk poised to take over the highly influential company, Trump may soon be back on the platform that helped propel his stunning political rise. Indeed, Musk on Tuesday said the ban was “flat-out stupid” and would be rescinded if and when his $44 billion takeover offer is finalized.
Trump has said he has no intention of returning to Twitter, though it remains to be seen if the allure of the 80 million followers he had amassed is enough to persuade him. But the prospect of Trump’s return to the platform is stirring new fears from Democrats, many of whom were in the Capitol during the riot and fear another violent episode.
HOLD THE DATA
Top House Democrats wrote letters to the chief executives of four major social media platforms on Wednesday, urging them to preserve and archive content related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that could be potential evidence of war crimes.
The lawmakers asked Meta, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok to preserve and archive posts related to the conflict “that may provide evidence of war crimes or human rights violations,” establish a mechanism with human rights-specific organizations to share that content and create a way for content depicting a possible war crime to be flagged by the platforms’ users.
“Often, images and videos of these despicable acts and their aftermath have been recorded and shared on social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram,” the lawmakers wrote in one letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
US, UK SIGN SPACEFLIGHT PARTNERSHIP
The United States and United Kingdom signed a commercial spaceflight partnership agreement on Wednesday that will help boost quicker, more streamlined and cheaper spaceflight operations from both countries, the U.K.’s Department of Transport announced.
Under the declaration, which was signed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the U.S. and U.K. will work together on commercial space launch licensing, and companies from either country will be able to more easily operate from the other’s spaceports.
“Commercial space travel is growing swiftly and it’s our responsibility to ensure that these innovations advance safely, encouraging them to develop in ways that benefit us all,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “We’re proud to launch this partnership with the United Kingdom to bring more of the benefits of commercial space travel to our workers, businesses, and communities.”
VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE
The Hill’s Mental Health Summit, Tuesday, May 17 at 1 p.m. ET
The pandemic and its toll on the mental health of Americans is often described as a “dual crisis.” What is being done to address the mental health crisis in our country? During Mental Health Awareness Month, The Hill hosts a discussion on policy recommendations that promote prevention and care for Americans experiencing mental illness. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Joshua Gordon, Headspace CEO Russ Glass and more. RSVP today.
BITS & PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: Technology is crucial in our high-stakes contest with China and Russia
Lighter click: Truth speaker
Notable links from around the web:
Militias Still Have a Safe Space on YouTube (Mother Jones / Ali Breland)
Abortion Misinformation Surges on Facebook, Twitter After Leak (Bloomberg / Davey Alba)
When SafeGraph pulled abortion clinic data, research protecting abortion rights hit a roadblock (Protocol / Kate Kaye)
One more thing: Harry addresses online safety
Prince Harry, the duke of Sussex, is helping to launch an online safety toolkit aimed at children.
The sixth in line to the British throne will be one of several speakers at a Monday virtual event billed as a discussion on “how the digital world can be made kinder and safer, where children’s health and wellbeing — both mental and physical — are not compromised.”
In addition to 37-year-old Harry, a Thursday announcement said, representatives from the United Nations, European Union and African Union will also be on hand, along with youth advocates from around the world.