Twitter’s “Firehose”, Elon Musk and how lawyers find out about the game

(Photo by Diego Donamaria/Getty Images for SXSW)

Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter was rocky from the start. For one thing, he didn’t seem to have given it much thought initially. I guess when you’re worth over $200 billion, buying a social media company at just over $40 billion wouldn’t be existentially ruinous, even if the thing turned out to be a lemon.

Twitter was also not thrilled to be acquired initially. The deal moved to new milestones so quickly it’s hard to even remember it was only two months ago when Twitter’s board adopted a poison pill in order to prevent the takeover.

Despite all the early missteps, Twitter management seems to have resold the merits of selling Elon Musk for $44 billion. From the company senior executives informed employees on June 8 that they planned to hold a shareholder vote on the sale by early August. Now, however, it’s Musk who has cold feet.

In what some observers saw as a feign to renegotiate too high an offer price, or an excuse to scuttle the deal entirely, Elon Musk began complaining about the number of bots and fake accounts on Twitter. He mocked Twitter’s official stance that only 5% of active accounts on its platform are fake.

That may be a valid concern, though falling stock prices sent Musk’s net worth plummeting in the months after he first proposed to buy Twitter. It probably made the deal less attractive to him. This lends credence to the idea that Musk might be looking for a way out.

However, taking it at face value, Musk made a series of comments about Twitter’s fake account problem and the company’s failure to provide the internal data needed to make an independent judgment on the number of fake accounts. his accounts which are false. Musk’s lawyers told Twitter on June 6 that the world’s richest man could walk away from acquiring Twitter if he doesn’t get the information he’s been looking for.

In response to the threat from Musk’s lawyers, Twitter reportedly now agrees to give Elon Musk access to his so-called ‘firehose’ — the raw flow of millions of tweets broadcast daily on the platform.

It’s unclear what the exact scope of this accommodation will be for Musk, but if he gets completely unrestricted access to the firehose, it would mean he would essentially see what a user who follows every account on Twitter would see. In other words, it would get a stream of data so large that it would be impossible to make sense of anything without robust automation, advanced computing power, and a damn good strategy.

It’s not entirely unprecedented for an outside organization to drink from Twitter’s fire hose. For instance, MIT researchers had access to the firehose stream, as did Google, many years ago. Still, the fire hose is one of Twitter’s biggest money-making assets, and the company certainly won’t open the fire hydrant for just anyone.

Twitter’s move here could very well be a genuine attempt to assuage Musk’s concerns about bots, fake accounts, and spammers. On the other hand, the lawyer in me is suspicious.

There are two very common approaches that skeezy attorneys take throughout the discovery process (which is the mandatory process of gathering and exchanging information in a trial). In some cases, the lawyer on the other side insists that he has provided everything he has to provide that is relevant, while (presumably wrongly) withholding certain things. The other approach is to provide absolutely everything and the kitchen sink, knowing full well that the other side doesn’t have the resources to sift through hundreds, thousands, millions of pieces of evidence sufficiently in detail to capture anything that might be important.

Twitter’s firehose stream could be good for a lot of things. Which I can’t imagine it’s really good for allowing a complete stranger to the company to tap into it and find a new way to use it to catch all the fake accounts on Twitter before the deal of acquisition is voted in a month and a half.

That seems like an incredibly short time to figure out how to use the Twitter feed. That being said, Elon Musk has surprised everyone many, many times before.


Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your debt-free JD (affiliate link). He taught legal writing, wrote for a wide variety of publications, and made both financial and scientific knowledge his business and pleasure. Any opinions he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization he is affiliated with. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].

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