May Elon Musk Terminate his Merger Agreement with Twitter over Spambots?
June 08, 2022
Another week, another chapter in the Elon Musk-Twitter saga. Last month, Musk posted tweets questioning longtime Twitter claims that automated “spambots” make up fewer than 5% of monetizable daily active users. But on June 6, Musk upped the ante by having his lawyers at Skadden send a demand letter to Twitter reiterating his demand for data he claims is necessary to facilitate his independent evaluation of spam and fake accounts on the company’s platform, which he asserts the company is required to provide under the merger agreement.
So what are those merger agreement provisions that would require Twitter to provide the requested information? There are two relevant provisions.
Section 6.4, Access to Information, obligates Twitter to provide Musk with “all information concerning the business … of the Company … as may reasonably be requested … for any reasonable business purpose related to the consummation of the transactions contemplated by this Agreement”. One plausible way to link the information needed to evaluate the prevalence of spam and fake accounts to consummation of the closing is through Twitter’s representation in the agreement regarding its SEC filings. Twitter represented that its SEC filings since January do not contain any material misstatements or omissions. Twitter disclosed in its most recent 10-Q, that based on its internal review of a sample of accounts, it estimated that false or spam accounts represented fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users. Twitter carefully hedges that estimate by stating that in making that determination, it “applies significant judgment, so [its] estimation of false or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts, and the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than … estimated”. Musk’s suggestion that the percentage of spambots may be significantly higher is an indirect allegation that Twitter has breached its SEC filing representation in the merger agreement. In any event, a condition to Musk’s obligation to consummate the transaction is that all of Twitter’s representations be materially true as of the closing. Hence, the information requested by Musk is arguably “related to the consummation” of the merger because it enables Musk to determine whether Twitter has breached one its representations, and consequently whether Musk may terminate the agreement.
The other provision of the merger agreement that Musk’s lawyers assert obligates Twitter to provide the requested fake account analysis information is Section 6.11, Financing Cooperation. That section of the agreement generally obligates Twitter to “provide any reasonable cooperation reasonably requested by [Musk] in writing in connection with [his] … debt financing”.
The Skadden letter ends ominously by stating that Musk reserves his rights resulting from Twitter’s alleged information covenant breach, including his right to terminate the merger agreement and not proceed with the acquisition. Musk has the right to terminate the agreement if Twitter breaches any of its obligations in the agreement (including the covenant to provide information) and the breach is not cured within thirty days following notice. The Skadden letter could be deemed to be such notice, which means Musk, assuming he prevails in his allegations of breach, may be able to terminate the agreement on or about July 6.
Or maybe not. Built into the information and cooperation covenants are a bunch of carveouts which Twitter may be able to rely on as a defense. Most relevant is that Twitter has no obligation to provide the information required under Section 6.4 if doing so would cause significant competitive harm to Twitter if the acquisition doesn’t close. In the past, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has said he “doesn’t believe that the … [bot] estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share).” Similarly, the financing cooperation covenant in Section 6.11 provides that Twitter is not required to disclose any material, non-public information except under agreed upon confidentiality arrangements. The Skadden letter, for its part, makes a point of saying that anyone reviewing the data would be bound by a non-disclosure agreement, and that Musk would not use any competitively sensitive information if the acquisition doesn’t close.
Ironically, it’s possible Musk may have breached the merger agreement by prematurely alleging a violation by Twitter of the financing cooperation covenant. Section 6.11 states that Twitter will be deemed to be in compliance with the covenant unless Musk’s failure to obtain the debt financing was due solely to a material breach by Twitter of its obligations under that section. It also states that Musk may not even allege that Twitter is not in compliance with Section 6.11 unless the same condition applies, i.e., that Musk’s failure to obtain the debt financing was due solely to a material breach by Twitter of its obligations under the section, which implies that he can’t even make the allegation unless the debt financing has fallen through, which it hasn’t.
 The Skadden demand letter states the contractual obligation to provide cooperation in connection with the debt financing includes “providing information ‘reasonably requested’ by Mr. Musk”, but I don’t see that specific requirement in Section 6.11 of the merger agreement.