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Who owns Twitter and why was it sold to Elon Musk?

Eccentric tech billionaire Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and SpaceX, has completed his long mooted $44bn takeover of Twitter.

Late on Thursday it was reported that he had fired several top executives, including CEO Parag Agrawal, and was in charge of the company

His deal to buy the company at $54.20 a share progressed in April this year, only to stall in July when Mr Musk complained that Twitter was not being sufficiently forthcoming about the prevalence of bots and spam on its service, leading to his threatening to withdraw and a lawsuit ensuing.

The entrepreneur visited the social network’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday and told staff that he had no intention of firing 75 per cent of the staff, reducing the workforce from 7,500 down to just over 2,000, as had been previously reported by The Washington Post.

Based on what the South African has had to say about the acquisition so far, his faith in “free speech absolutism” and open debate could result in significant cuts being made to Twitter’s curation and content moderation, a move that could make the social media site an even less pleasant place for users to spend time on than it already is by tolerating hate speech.

It might also pave the way for Donald Trump’s return, the former president having been banned in disgrace from a platform that was once so pivotal to his communication strategy following the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Salesforce, Google and Disney have reportedly been interested in buying the social network in the past but Mr Musk now finally appears ready to go the distance.

Twitter was founded by Jack Dorsey, Christopher Isaac Stone, Noah E Glass, Jeremy LaTrasse and Evan Williams on 21 March 2006, born from the ashes of Mr Glass and Mr Williams’s podcast startup Odeo.

Reimagined as an instant messaging or “microblogging” site, Twitter was duly launched that July and has gone from strength to strength ever since, acquiring other platforms like Periscope and Vine and challenging Facebook’s supremacy, although if it has been criticised for its lacklustre efforts to monetise its offering and failure to grow its user base beyond a certain point.

Mr Dorsey was its original CEO, departing in 2008 to be replaced by Dick Costolo and Mr Williams before returning in 2015 and holding the fort until late November 2021, when it was announced that he was stepping aside for a second time to be replaced by Parag Agrawal.

He is understood to retain a 2.4 per cent stake in the company.

Elon Musk (Brian Lawless/PA)
Elon Musk (Brian Lawless/PA)

Rather than being run by a single owner, Twitter Inc, in its present form, has been publicly traded since its launch on the New York Stock Exchange in November 2013 and is now divided among several investment organisations, private companies, retail businesses and individual stakeholders.

According to Twitter’s latest filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission from last month, Mr Musk is already the majority shareholder thanks to the 9.6 per cent stake in the company acquired earlier this year.

The Vanguard Group, based in Pennsylvania, is the biggest institutional shareholder, holding a 9.36 per cent stake, according to Yahoo! Finance data.

New York City’s BlackRock Fund Advisors is the second biggest shareholder, owning 6.72 per cent, followed by SSgA Funds Management Inc, Fidelity Management & Research and Pentwater Capital Management LP in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.