Disney was on the verge of acquiring Twitter in 2016, but the former top executive at the Mouse House pulled the plug because he said the platform was full of “hate speech” and bots — echoing a similar claim made by Tesla boss Elon Musk.
Robert Iger, the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company who stepped down two years ago to make way for current boss Bob Chapek, told a tech conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday that he realized a “substantial portion” of Twitter users “were not real.”
Iger’s anecdote appears to back Musk’s claim that Twitter has downplayed the presence of bots during the Tesla chief’s negotiations to buy the company for $44 billion. Twitter sued Musk after he sought to terminate the agreement.
Disney was on the verge of buying Twitter before the 2016 presidential election.
In his 2019 memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company,” Iger wrote that the boards of both companies came to a deal, but he decided to pull out because of the “nastiness” that was prevalent on the site.
On Wednesday, Iger delved deeper into the saga of Disney’s aborted acquisition of Twitter, saying that he reconsidered the deal because the toxic discourse on the site was not in sync with the company’s wholesome, family-friendly, and feel-good brand.
He told the Vox Code Conference in Beverly Hills on Wednesday that Twitter would have been a “phenomenal” distribution vehicle for Disney.
“We were intent on going into the streaming business,” Iger told conference attendees.
“We needed a technology solution.”
When Iger and his lieutenants at Disney heard that Twitter was up for sale, he said that they started the acquisition process “immediately.”
“It was viewed as sort of a social network,” Iger recalled.
“We were viewing it as something completely different. We could put news, sports, entertainment, [and] reach the world.”
“And frankly, it would have been a phenomenal solution, distribution-wise,” Iger said.
Disney was about to consummate the acquisition until Iger went home and “contemplated it for a weekend.”
Iger said that he had second thoughts.
“I’m not looking at this as carefully as I need to look at it,” Iger said he thought at the time.
“Yes, it’s a great solution from a distribution perspective,” Iger said on Wednesday.
“But it would come with so many other challenges and complexities that as a manager of a great global brand, I was not prepared to take on a major distraction and having to manage circumstances that weren’t even close to anything that we had faced before.”
Iger said that Disney “estimated” that there were a large number of bots, though he said they were “not a majority.”
“I don’t remember the number but we discounted the value heavily,” Iger said.
“But that was built into our economics. Actually, the deal that we had was pretty cheap.”
Iger said another factor dissuading the company from taking on Twitter was the vitriol on the site.
“Then you have to look, of course, at all the hate speech and potential to do as much harm as good,” he said.
“We’re in the business of manufacturing fun at Disney — of doing nothing but good, even though there are others today that criticize Disney for the opposite, which is wrong.”
Iger added: “This was just something that we were not ready to take on and I was not ready to take on as the CEO of a company and I thought it would have been irresponsible.”