As Elon Musk tries to squirm out of his commitment to buy Twitter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is running interference for the newly minted Texan.
Paxton just announced that his office is investigating how Twitter may be "misleading Texans" about the number of automated bots on its platform.
"It matters not only for regular Twitter users, but also Texas businesses and advertisers who use Twitter for their livelihoods," Paxton said. "If Twitter is misrepresenting how many accounts are fake to drive up their revenue, I have a duty to protect Texans."
Paxton says he has requested documents from Twitter through a Civil Investigative Demand to determine if the company has run afoul of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in its bot estimates. According to the Texas AG's website, people affected by illegal practices under the law may be able to sue for damages. The company has until June 27 to produce the documents.
Sudden interest in Twitter spam
Because nothing has changed with Twitter's longstanding bot situation — a situation Musk was so familiar with prior to committing to buy Twitter that he cited it specifically as something he'd improve — Paxton's gesture seems designed to carry water for the billionaire Tesla CEO.
It's tough to imagine too many Texans losing sleep over Twitter's bot estimates. It's much more likely that Paxton's investigation is just a bit of political signaling in an election year. Paxton is running for reelection this November after beating George P. Bush in a primary runoff late last month.
The Texas AG aligning himself with an ideological lightning rod who's brought his high-tech business into the state makes sense, even if his office's sudden interest in Twitter's spam doesn't. Musk left California for the Lone Star State toward the end of 2020 after chafing at state restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID. He took Tesla with him and the company finished relocating to Texas last year.
Paxton is also currently pressuring Twitter and other social media companies with HB 20, a law that invites Texans to sue platforms over their content moderation practices. The Supreme Court blocked the law last month after a federal appeals court paused a temporary injunction against it.
Musk casts doubt on the Twitter deal (again)
Finding himself with cold feet over the Twitter deal during the current market downturn, Musk has repeatedly complained that the social media company mislead him about the number on non-human users on its platform. Musk, who is fond of conducting pseudo-scientific polls of his Twitter followers, claims that Twitter's methodology for measuring bots isn't sound. In a letter to Twitter's chief legal officer on Monday, Musk's intentions to back out of or reprice the deal were made plain.
"This is a clear material breach of Twitter’s obligations under the merger agreement and Mr. Musk reserves all rights resulting therefrom, including his right not to consummate the transaction and his right to terminate the merger agreement," his legal team wrote.
In May, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained the company's approach to spam and bots, noting that the issue is addressed regularly in its quarterly financial reports. "Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5% – based on the methodology outlined above," Agrawal tweeted. "The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter."
Let’s talk about spam. And let’s do so with the benefit of data, facts, and context…
— Parag Agrawal (@paraga) May 16, 2022