These two loveable rogues share a fondness for money-making stunts
If Elon Musk’s $44bn offer to buy Twitter was a new hope for free speech, then news on Thursday that investors have filed a suit alleging potential stock price manipulation by the eccentric billionaire is clear evidence that the Empire is striking back.
This is apt.
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While Elon Musk is often compared to Tony Stark, the billionaire industrialist and genius behind Marvel superhero Iron Man, a better comparison may be with Han Solo, the wily galactic opportunist — and captain of the Millenium Falcon rather than the Falcon 9 rocket — who specialises in the art of faking it until he makes it, but also perpetually having to sweet-talk his way out of trouble.
Like Solo, Elon likes to exaggerate his abilities. This cocksure behaviour more often than not leaves both in hot water or carbonite, either with the authorities or other power players circling their orbit. In the end, Solo’s dicey history with Jabba the Hutt nearly proves his unmaking. Elon’s own legacy troubles with the Securities and Exchange Commission — a famed bounty setter in its own right — are possibly about to bite back on him too.
Twitter investors are miffed Elon used the very platform he was trying to buy to weasel his way out of the £44bn price tag he had already agreed to. This is because on May 13 Elon tweeted the deal was “temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users”.
This is something you just can’t do under securities law if you have waived the right to due diligence under the buyout contract. At the time, of course, nobody could be sure if Elon really meant what he was saying. Was this just more scoundrel behaviour designed to excite the media and keep audiences hooked? Or was there a greater strategy at play? With Elon, just like with Solo, it’s often hard to know.
The suit’s proposition, however, is clear. Elon didn’t really care about unmasking the bad droid armies of Twitter. His objective was to manipulate the price of Twitter stock, seemingly to annoy current investors and Twitter employees.
This sort of manipulation, they imply, is habitual for Elon. They add that he saved himself $156m because he failed to disclose the extent of his Twitter purchases between March and April, and in so doing pushed the stock price artificially lower.
The suit, which is being led by William Heresniak, goes on to claim Musk’s disregard for securities laws demonstrates how one can flaunt the law and the tax code to build their wealth at the expense of the other Americans.
That too is in keeping with the idea that Solo is only interested in money and not any sort of revolution. The fact that the Dark Side has suddenly cancelled a million voices from the galaxy is merely incidental.
But then again, the appeal of Solo’s character in the end is that underneath it all, he really is a good guy. In the Star Wars narrative, he ends up doing the right thing — persuaded from the sidelines by a ragtag cabal of mystic warriors and traditionalist royals into serving the Rebel Alliance. He comes to define in this way the libertarian principle that in a free system everyone must be given the right to err, and that when it matters you fall in line against the forces of division and hate.
That ironically is also in tune with rumours that those really pulling Elon’s strings on the deal are a shadowy clique of libertarian freedom fighters who have grown concerned about the power of the “woke mind virus”. Just how Elon is going to get himself out of this scrap, however, is anyone’s guess. All analogies have their limits.