Musk offers to close Twitter buyout deal at original price

Musk agreed in April to buy Twitter for $44 billion, but within weeks said the number of bot accounts was much higher than Twitter’s estimate of less than 5 percent of users. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 October 2022

Musk offers to close Twitter buyout deal at original price

  • The news comes ahead of a highly anticipated faceoff between Musk and Twitter in Delaware’s Court of Chancery on Oct. 17

SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk on Tuesday offered to push through with his buyout of Twitter at the original agreed price, as a trial over his efforts to withdraw from the deal loomed.
The world’s richest man said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he sent Twitter a letter vowing to honor the contract.
The latest twist in the long-running saga came ahead of the high-stakes court battle launched by Twitter in an attempt to hold the Tesla chief to the deal he signed in April.
Musk’s potential stewardship of the influential social media site has sparked worry from activists who fear he could open the gates to more abusive and misinformative posts.
“We write to notify you that the Musk Parties intend to proceed to closing of the transaction,” read a copy of the letter to Twitter filed with the SEC.
Twitter confirmed to AFP that it received the letter from Musk, and said it intends to close the buyout deal at the agreed-on price of $54.20 per share.
Conditions noted in Musk’s letter included that the court halt action in the lawsuit against him. He had been slated to be questioned under oath by Twitter attorneys later this week.
The 51-year-old tweeted that buying Twitter “is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” offering no details.
During an annual shareholders meeting in August, Musk said Twitter could add momentum to a vision he had for the X.com company he founded in 1999.
X.com merged with Confinity, whose co-founders include Peter Thiel, and the entity went on to become PayPal.
“I do sort of have a grander vision for what I thought X.com, or X corporation, could have been back in the day,” Musk said at the shareholder meeting.
“I think Twitter would help accelerate that by three to five years.”

A serial entrepreneur made rich through his success with Tesla electric cars, Musk began to step back from the Twitter deal soon after it was agreed.
But “I think that Musk realized he was not going to win that trial” next week, University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told AFP.
“Ever since he had buyer’s remorse, the problem has been why, and why had he not done due diligence up front.”
Musk said in July he was canceling the purchase because he was misled by Twitter concerning the number of fake “bot” accounts, allegations rejected by the company.
Twitter meanwhile has sought to prove Musk was contriving excuses to walk away because he changed his mind.
In July, a Delaware judge agreed to fast-track a trial on Twitter’s allegations.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in an email that Musk’s pivot showed he recognized “this $44 billion deal was going to be completed one way or another.”
Musk made his unsolicited bid to buy Twitter without asking for estimates regarding spam or fake accounts, and even sweetened his offer to the board by withdrawing a diligence condition, the lawsuit said.
“Ultimately, we will not know why Elon elected to change course ahead of trial, though we speculate that there are details of the negotiation or legal process that he preferred remain private — including deposition,” Baird Equity Research analysts said in a note to investors.
Seen by his champions as an iconoclastic genius and by his critics as an erratic megalomaniac, Musk surprised many investors with his pursuit of Twitter.
Claiming to be a free speech advocate, he has said he favored lifting the site’s ban on Donald Trump, who was kicked off shortly after the former president’s efforts to overturn his election defeat led to the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters.
“Musk made it clear that he would roll back Twitter’s community standards and safety guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump along with scores of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates of disinformation,” said Angelo Carusone, president of watchdog group Media Matters for America.
“In effect, Musk will turn Twitter into a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery, and operationalized harassment.”
Musk’s norm-defying conduct over Twitter come after the Tesla and SpaceX chief’s past record of statements that flout or test convention and sometimes provoke a crackdown from regulators.
On Monday he was embroiled in a Twitter spat with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over his ideas on ending Russia’s invasion.


Hong Kong jails pro-democracy media tycoon over fraud

Updated 28 sec ago

Hong Kong jails pro-democracy media tycoon over fraud

  • Jimmy Lai was arrested during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following widespread protests in 2019
  • His media company, Next Digital, published the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily
HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court sentenced a pro-democracy media tycoon to five years and nine months in prison on Saturday over two fraud charges linked to lease violations, the latest of a series of cases against prominent activists that critics say are aimed at crushing dissent in the city.
Jimmy Lai, who was arrested during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following widespread protests in 2019 and under the National Security Law imposed by Beijing, was also fined 2 million Hong Kong dollars ($257,000).
His media company, Next Digital, published the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The publication was forced to close following the arrests of its top executives, editors and journalists last year.
In October, Lai was found guilty of fraud for subletting part of the office space to a secretarial firm, which was also controlled by him, between 2016 and 2020. The second fraud count was for letting the same firm use the media outlet’s office space in an alleged breach of lease agreements from 1998 to 2015.
The court at that time ruled the moves had violated lease agreements with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. and that Lai had hidden the fact that the company was occupying space in the building.
Handing down the sentences on Saturday, Judge Stanley Chan said the violations, which he called “organized and planned,” occurred over two decades and that Lai had used his media organization as “an umbrella of protection.”
He said Lai did not feel guilty about the moves, so there was no basis for the court to reduce his jail term.
Lai’s former colleague Wong Wai-keung, who was convicted on a single charge of fraud over the case, must serve 21 months in jail, Chan added.
Lai’s legal team earlier asked the United Nations to investigate his imprisonment and multiple criminal charges as “legal harassment” to punish him for speaking out. The tycoon was previously sentenced to 20 months in jail for his role in unauthorized assemblies.
His national security trial, initially scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, was postponed after Hong Kong leader John Lee asked China to effectively block him from hiring a British defense lawyer. If convicted, Lai faces up to life imprisonment.
The enactment of the security law has led to the arrests of many prominent democracy activists in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China’s rule in 1997.
It has also damaged faith in the future of the international financial hub, with increasing numbers of young professionals responding to the shrinking freedoms by moving abroad.

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year

Updated 09 December 2022

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year

  • The Brussels-based IFJ recorded five deaths of journalists amid this year’s political crisis in Pakistan
  • Group called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists

BRUSSELS: Russia’s war in Ukraine, chaos in Haiti and rising violence by criminal groups in Mexico contributed to a 30 percent spike in the number of journalists killed doing their work in 2022 over the previous year, according to a new report released Friday.
The International Federation of Journalists says that 67 journalists and media staff have been killed around the world so far this year, up from 47 last year.
The Brussels-based group also tallied 375 journalists currently imprisoned for their work, with the most in China, Myanmar and Turkiye. Last year’s report listed 365 journalists behind bars.
With the number of media workers killed on the rise, the group called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists and free journalism.
“The failure to act will only embolden those who seek to suppress the free flow of information and undermine the ability of people to hold their leaders to account, including in ensuring that those with power and influence do not stand in the way of open and inclusive societies,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.
More media workers were killed covering the war in Ukraine – 12 in total — than in any other country this year, according to the IFJ. Most were Ukrainian but also included those of other nationalities such as American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud. Many deaths occurred in the first chaotic weeks of the war, though threats to journalists continue as the fighting drags on.
The IFJ said “the rule by terror of criminal organizations in Mexico, and the breakdown of law and order in Haiti, have also contributed to the surge in killings.” 2022 has been one of the deadliest ever for journalists in Mexico, which is now considered the most dangerous country for reporters outside a war zone.
The group recorded five deaths of journalists amid this year’s political crisis in Pakistan, and warned of new threats to journalists in Colombia and continued danger for journalists in the Philippines despite new leadership there.
It also called out the shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she was reporting from a Palestinian refugee camp. The Arab network this week formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate her death.
The Brussels-based IFJ represents 600,000 media professionals from trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. The report was released on the eve of the United Nations’ Human Rights Day.


Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

Updated 09 December 2022

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

  • FTC sued Meta in July to stop the tech giant's acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within
  • Government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Thursday accused Meta Platforms Inc. of trying to buy its way to dominance in the metaverse, kicking off a high-profile trial to try to prevent the Facebook parent from buying virtual reality app developer Within Inc.
The FTC sued in July to stop the deal, saying Meta’s acquisition of Within would “tend to create a monopoly” in the market for virtual reality (VR) fitness apps. It has asked the judge to order a preliminary injunction that would halt the proposed transaction.
In an opening statement, FTC lawyer Abby Dennis said the Within acquisition was part of Meta’s bid to acquire new and more diverse virtual reality users, including customers of Within’s popular subscription-based virtual reality workout app Supernatural.
That would complement Meta’s existing virtual reality users, who tend to skew young and male, and be more focused on gaming, Dennis added.
“Meta could have chosen to use all its vast resources and capabilities to build its own dedicated VR fitness app, and it was planning on doing that before it acquired Within,” Dennis said, pointing to a plan from early 2021.
The plan, Operation Twinkie, involved expanding a rhythm game app called Beat Saber that the company acquired in 2019 into the fitness space via a proposed partnership with digital fitness company Peloton, Dennis said.
She cited an email from Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg saying he was “bullish” on fitness and calling the proposed partnership with Peloton “awesome.”
Lawyers for Meta and Within argued that the FTC did a poor job of defining the relevant market and said the companies compete with a range of fitness content, not just VR-dedicated fitness apps.
Meta’s lawyers also disputed that plans for a Meta-owned VR fitness app had proceeded beyond low-level “brainstorming” and argued that the FTC underestimated the competition in the market it had defined, citing the potential for fellow tech giants Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Bytedance to join the fray.
Rade Stojsavljevic, who manages Meta’s in-house VR app developer studios, testified that he had proposed the tie-up between Beat Saber and Peloton but did not develop a formal plan and never discussed the idea with either party.
Internal documents from early 2021 that were displayed in court showed Stojsavljevic proposing acquisitions of VR developers before they could be “cannibalized” by competitors and discussing pressure from Zuckerberg to “get aggressive” in response to reports of a prospective Apple headset.
The trial, scheduled through Dec. 20, will serve as a test of the FTC’s bid to head off what it sees as a repeat of the company acquiring small upcoming would-be rivals and effectively buying its way to dominance, this time in the nascent virtual and augmented reality markets.
The FTC is separately trying to force Meta to unwind two previous acquisitions, Instagram and WhatsApp, in a lawsuit filed in 2020. Both were in relatively new markets at the time the companies were purchased.
PRESSURE TO PRODUCE HIT APPS
A government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology — virtual and augmented reality — that Zuckerberg has identified as the “next generation of computing.”
If blocked from making acquisitions in the space, Meta would face greater pressure to produce its own hit apps and would give up the gains — in terms of revenue, talent, data and control — associated with bringing innovative developers in-house.
Within developed Supernatural, which it advertises as a “complete fitness service” with “expert coaches,” “beautiful destinations” and “workouts choreographed to the best music available.”
It is available only on Meta’s Quest devices, which are headsets offering immersive digital visuals and audio that market research firm IDC estimates capture 90 percent of global shipments in the virtual reality hardware market.
The majority of the more than 400 apps available in the Quest app store are produced by external developers. Meta owns the most popular virtual reality app in the Quest app store, Beat Saber, the app it was considering expanding with the Peloton partnership.
The social media company agreed to buy Within in October 2021, a day after changing its name from Facebook to Meta, signalling its ambition to build an immersive virtual environment known as the metaverse.
Zuckerberg will be a witness in the trial. Other potential witnesses are Within CEO Chris Milk and Meta Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth, who runs the company’s metaverse-oriented Reality Labs unit.
The trial is at the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

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Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements

Updated 09 December 2022

Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements

  • Companies will have the option to prevent their ads appearing under certain tweets
  • Move hopes to reassure advertisers following rise in hate speech

LONDON: Twitter Inc. will roll out new controls as soon as next week to let companies prevent their ads from appearing above or below tweets containing certain keywords, the social media platform told advertisers in an email on Thursday.
The new controls are part of Twitter’s effort to reassure and lure back advertisers that have pulled ads off the platform since it was purchased in October by billionaire Elon Musk, amid reports from civil rights groups that hate speech has risen since the acquisition and after several banned or suspended accounts were reinstated.
Twitter earns nearly 90 percent of its revenue from selling digital ads. Musk recently attributed a “massive drop in revenue” to civil rights organizations that have pressured brands to pause their Twitter ads.
In a call on Thursday with an advertising industry group, a Twitter representative said the platform was considering bringing its content moderators, many of whom are contracted through third-party vendors, in-house, according to a source familiar with the remarks.
The Twitter representative said bringing content moderators in-house would allow the platform to invest more in moderation for non-English languages, according to the source.
The comments come after Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters that the platform would lean more heavily on automated content moderation. Irwin also said that Twitter’s recent layoffs, which cut 50 percent of staff, did not significantly hurt its moderation team and those working on critical areas like child safety.
The email to advertisers on Thursday, which was reviewed by Reuters, said a revamped version of Twitter’s subscription service called Twitter Blue would begin rolling out on Friday.
The subscription will allow accounts to receive a verified check mark. Accounts for individuals will get a blue check, while gold and gray check marks will denote business and government accounts, according to the email.
The subscription price will be $7 per month on the web and $11 per month on Apple devices, the email said.
Twitter also told advertisers that it removed ads from profiles mentioned in a Washington Post article on Tuesday, which reported that ads had appeared on the Twitter accounts of white nationalists.
Snap Inc, which owns photo messaging app Snapchat, has paused its advertising on Twitter while it investigates the issue, a spokesperson told Reuters.
The accounts were not part of “amnesty reinstatements,” Twitter’s email said, referring to Musk’s tweet last month that Twitter would reinstate suspended accounts that have not broken the law.
“We will not be reinstating bad actors, spam accounts and users that engaged in criminal/illegal activity,” Twitter’s note to advertisers said.
Twitter, which has lost many members of its communications team, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report

  • TV journalist Arshad Sharif earlier fled Pakistan citing threats to his life
  • Team of Pakistani probers believe it was a case of pre-meditated murder

ISLAMABAD: A team set up by the Pakistani government to probe the killing of a well-known Pakistani journalist in Nairobi said it found several contradictions in the version given by Kenyan authorities, and believes it was a case of pre-meditated murder.
TV journalist Arshad Sharif, who had fled Pakistan citing threats to his life, was shot dead in Nairobi in October. Kenyan officials said it was a case of mistaken identity and police hunting car thieves opened fire on his vehicle as it drove through a roadblock without stopping.
A two-member fact-finding team from Pakistan that traveled to Kenya and conducted a number of interviews, examined and reconstructed the crime scene and examined the deceased’s phones and computers, said in a 600-page report that Sharif’s killing was a pre-planned murder.
“Both the members of the (fact-finding team) have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken identity,” said the report, copies of which were submitted to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
“It is more probable that the firing was done, after taking proper aim, at a stationary vehicle,” it said.
Kenyan authorities declined comment on the specifics of the report.
“The investigation into the matter is still ongoing, so there is not much I can tell,” said Resila Onyango, spokesperson for the Kenya National Police Service.
A multi-agency team is conducting the investigation, he said, adding that the team will apprise authorities when they are done with the probe.
The chairperson of the Kenyan police watchdog Independent Police Oversight Authority, Anne Makori, also said investigations were still ongoing.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had said before the release of the report that Sharif’s body had bruises and torture marks, suggested it was a targeted killing.
The fact-finding team highlighted one wound in particular on Sharif’s back, saying it appeared to have been inflicted from relatively close range.
The report noted there was no corresponding penetration mark of a bullet on the seat on which Sharif was sitting when the shooting purportedly took place, calling it a “ballistic impossibility.”
“The injury had to have been caused either before the journalist got into the vehicle, or the shot was fired from a relatively close range, possibly from inside the vehicle, and almost certainly not a moving vehicle,” the report said.
Sharif had fled from Pakistan citing threats to his life after the government registered several treason cases against him.
One of the treason cases stemmed from reporting Sharif did that led to an accusation he had spread a call from an official in a previous government, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, for members of the armed forces to mutiny.
Both Sharif and the official in the previous government denied inciting mutiny.
Former prime minister Khan said Sharif had been murdered for his journalistic work. He and his successor Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, not related to the journalist, had called for a judicial investigation.
The fact-finding team’s report also pointed out apparent contradictions in the autopsy reports in Kenya and Pakistan.
The post-mortem report in Pakistan identified 12 injuries on Sharif’s body whereas the Kenyan report identified just two injuries pertaining to gunshot wounds.
The fact-finding team report said doctors believed the injures may be the result of torture or a struggle, but it could not be established until verified by the doctor who conducted the post mortem in Kenya.