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Elon Musk and Twitter: Now It's Personal and Ugly

The richest man in the world has sparked a saga around his bid to acquire the microblogging website Twitter.
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It's a saga that keeps markets and social networks in suspense. 

Since Elon Musk announced on April 4 that he owned 9.2% of Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report and nine days later launched a $44 billion bid to acquire the microblogging platform, the many twists and turns in the story have come at a rate of at least one a day. 

And the latest turn appears to be personal. 

The billionaire and the Twitter board are going head to head as they negotiate the deal. That's to be expected, given the power on both sides and the enormous financial stakes involved. 

But outsiders are also rather insensitively targeting Musk on Twitter. 

Spam Bots and Fake Accounts

When Musk disclosed his offer on Twitter, one of the arguments he made was that he would rid the site of spam bots and fake accounts. 

But since May 13 Musk has been claiming, without evidence or independent studies, that too many such automated accounts operate on the platform and that Twitter lied in its financial disclosures by saying the figure was less than 5%.

Twitter for years has said in its Securities and Exchange Commission filings that it has a problem with spam bots. In those disclosures the website warns that the number of these fake accounts must be greater than what it suggests.

Still, Musk has made it a sticking point in the deal talks, and some experts say it's a bargaining tactic to drive down the $54.20-a-share acquisition price or a way to enable him to walk away from the deal.

"The bot issue [is] not a new issue and likely more of a scapegoat to push for a lower price," Wedbush analysts Dan Ives and John Katsingris said in a recent note to clients.

Twitter is now flexing its muscles.

'Special Needs'

The company sent its preliminary proxy to the SEC on Tuesday, May 17. The document shows that it intends to continue with the transaction as it is.

"Twitter is committed to completing the transaction on the agreed price and terms as promptly as practicable," Twitter said.

The board's determination to force Musk to close the transaction prompted the billionaire to issue a series of new tweets, some of which comment on disturbing videos posted on Twitter. 

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In one of the videos, a man introduced as a Twitter manager mocks Musk for having Asperger's syndrome.

"He has Asperger, so he's special," the man said. "I'm like you're [Elon Musk] special needs. You're literally special needs." 

TheStreet has chosen not to name the man.

The video appears to be shot by the man's table neighbor in a bar or restaurant. The video was leaked by the nonprofit organization Project Veritas and posted on Twitter by a gadfly meme enthusiast and conservative activist, Benny Johnson, who is co-founder of Arsenal Media. It has gone viral.

Johnson describes himself as "Godfather of the Conservative internet." Arsenal Media, which counts high-profile Republican Party candidates among its clients, has made a specialty of creating videos that will go viral and enable candidates to raise money and boost their prominence, according to The Verge.

Musk commented on the video, seeing it as a new angle of attack on Twitter.

"Twitter exec trashing free speech & mocking people with Asperger’s," the billionaire said.

An 'Interesting' Poll

Musk also commented on the results of a poll that one of his fans organized on Twitter. Respondents to the survey overwhelmingly said they believed that Parag Agrawal, Twitter's chief executive, is not being honest in his tweets in response to Musk's accusations about fake accounts.

"Interesting," he said.

TheStreet has asked Twitter for comment on the video and the survey.

Last month the serial entrepreneur opened up about his childhood and living with Asperger's syndrome. Musk, who is 50, said that as he was growing up, he did not master social norms and understand social cues. 

"I guess others could intuitively understand what is meant by something," he said. "I would just tend to take things very literally, just the words as spoken were exactly what they meant. But then, that turned out to be wrong, because they're not simply saying exactly what they mean. There's all sorts of other things that are meant. It took me a while to figure that out."

Asperger's is a form of autism without intellectual disability or language delay. Those who have it usually have difficulty in relationships and interactions with others, according to scientists. 

They have trouble recognizing and understanding other people's emotions, through their facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures.