Elon Musk subpoenas Stanford in legal battle with Twitter

Aug. 31, 2022, 9:26 p.m.

Elon Musk subpoenaed Stanford University on Wednesday in the latest development of an ongoing legal dispute over his scrapped plans to acquire Twitter for $44 billion.

In the subpoena, Musk’s legal team requested documents related to all “conversations, conferences, discussions, interviews, meetings, negotiations and agreements” between Twitter and Stanford affiliates over the proposed acquisition.

Though the subpoena does not explicitly state a connection between the University and the trial, ties between Stanford and Twitter’s leadership run deep. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal Ph.D. ’12 is a Stanford alumnus, and Stanford computer science professor Fei-Fei Li also serves on Twitter’s board of directors.

The Daily has reached out to Li and the University for comment.

The subpoena is another step Musk has taken in an all-out attempt to walk away from a deal that, if closed, would entail his purchase of the company at $54.20 per share, despite the stock price’s 28.5% tumble since the initial proposal.

Following an initial ambivalence from Twitter’s board at the news of Musk’s purchase of 73.5 million shares of the company, it embraced the prospect of doing business with him. Less than three months later, Musk reneged, prompting Twitter to file a lawsuit that demanded completion of the deal. In the filing, Twitter stated that Musk “refuses to honor his obligations to Twitter and its stockholders because the deal he signed no longer serves his personal interests.”

The billionaire business magnate’s attorney said in a July 8 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Twitter provided “false and misleading representations” on fake accounts and other user data, resulting in an overvaluation and providing grounds to terminate the agreement.

The intervening dispute has introduced new volatility into Twitter’s stock price and debates over the future of free speech on the Internet.

Other parties subpoenaed by Musk and expected to appear in court include Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, former Twitter security head Peiter Zatko — who blew the whistle on the company’s alleged privacy and security vulnerabilities earlier this month — and venture capitalist Peter Thiel ’89 J.D. ’92. Twitter subpoenaed Thiel’s venture capital firm Founders Fund, as well as investors Joe Lonsdale and David Sacks among others.

Twitter’s estimate for the percentage of fake accounts on the platform has sat around 5% for several years, and more than half a million accounts are removed each day if unable to pass certain human verification tests, according to Agrawal.

Musk and Twitter are set to meet on Oct. 17 in the Delaware Court of Chancery, though the date could ultimately be delayed until December at the request of Musk’s team after Zatko filed an 84-page complaint to Congress last week. Zatko alleged  “egregious deficiencies” in Twitter’s efforts in subverting hacking, spam and bots on the platform. Zatko also said Twitter misled federal regulators and members of the company, the implications of which Musk’s lawyers would like additional time to assess before the trial.

Musk matriculated to Stanford in 1995 to begin a physics Ph.D. but dropped out after two days in the program. Musk tweeted a letter from his “would be” Professor William Nix Ph.D. ’63 on Aug. 19.

However, when asked about his involvement with Elon Musk, Nix wrote in a statement to The Daily that he has no connection to Musk outside of that mentioned in his letter. He further wrote, “I have no involvement in the Twitter case at all and as far as I know, neither does Stanford.”

Vardhan Agrawal '25 is a writer for the Academics desk. Contact the News section at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.Matthew Turk ’24 is the Chief Technology Officer of the The Stanford Daily and is majoring in computer science. He has previously served as a desk editor in News and managing editor of The Grind. This past summer, he served as a software engineering intern at The Washington Post. His novels, An Invincible Summer (2021) and Baba Yaga (2022), are in stores. Ask Matthew about astrophysics, football and the automotive industry. Contact him at mturk ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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