Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s excuse for trying to back out of his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter—too many bots, he says—is gaining steam. First, it was the Twitter whistleblower’s claims. Then, on Wednesday, Musk received an assist from former Disney CEO Bob Iger, who had wanted to buy Twitter for the House of Mouse years ago but ultimately didn’t. Iger’s revelation: Bots made up “substantial portion” Twitter’s users.
In an interview at the Code Conference, Iger went into detail on why he decided to back out of the potential acquisition in 2016. Many points he touched on were not new. At that time, Disney was looking for a distribution platform to get into streaming, and Twitter seemed like a great fit. However, the level of “nastiness” on Twitter did not mesh well with the entertainment company’s squeaky-clean brand, and acquiring it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
Iger dropped a new nugget of information he hadn’t spoken about before, one that quickly caught the attention of the richest man in the world: bots.
“Interestingly enough, because I read the news these days, we did look very carefully at all of the Twitter users—I guess they’re called users?—and we at that point estimated with some of Twitter’s help that a substantial portion, not a majority, were not real,” Iger explained. “I don’t remember the number, but we discounted the value heavily. But that was built into our economics. Actually, the deal that we had was pretty cheap.”
Gizmodo reached out to Musk’s lawyers about Iger’s comments but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Musk, meanwhile, ever the active Twitter user, did respond to a tweet about the former Disney CEO’s remarks late Wednesday.
“Interesting …” he tweeted.
Iger’s comments are no doubt welcome news to Musk and his team, who are claiming that Twitter lied about how many bots are on its platform in an attempt to wiggle out of the deal. While Twitter states that less than 5% of its monthly active users are fake or spam accounts, Musk claims that the number is significantly higher. The two parties are fighting over the future of the acquisition deal in Delaware’s Chancery Court and are scheduled to go to trial in October.
While both Iger and Musk wanted to buy Twitter and then backed out, Iger didn’t sign a binding contract and then happily announce to the world that he was buying Twitter, unlike Musk. Disney never formalized or signed an acquisition deal.
The new information from Iger on the social media platform’s bots comes a little more than a week after Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko, who is the company’s former head of security, alleged in a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the social media company showed no interest in finding out how many bots are on the platform. In addition, Zatko claimed that Twitter couldn’t figure out how many bots were on the site, even if it wanted to, because it doesn’t have the resources to do so.
On Wednesday, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick allowed Musk and his team to add Zatko’s whistleblower complaint into the case. The former Twitter employee has been subpoenaed by Musk’s legal team and has agreed to testify.