(Bloomberg) -- A lawyer for Twitter Inc. said a whistle-blower who claims the company responded inadequately to spam and bot accounts never raised those concerns when he was employed at the social media platform.
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None of former security head Peiter Zatko’s questions “had anything to do with spam” until he filed his whistler-blower complaint, Bradley Wilson told Delaware Chancery Judge Kathaleen St. J. McCormick at a hearing on Tuesday. Then Zatko “started parroting” Musk’s allegations against the company, Wilson said, calling it “very, very strange.”
McCormick held the hearing to consider Elon Musk’s request to amend his counterclaims to Twitter’s suit seeking to force the completion of Musk’s $44 billion buyout. The judge didn’t rule on the request, or Musk’s bid to push back an Oct. 17 trial date to early December.
Musk backed away from his planned purchase of Twitter claiming the company hadn’t leveled with him about the number of spam and robot accounts among its more than 230 million users.
Lawyers for the billionaire cast Zatko’s accusations of shoddy operations as further violations of the buyout agreement. Zatko said Twitter officials brushed off his worries about the number of bot accounts embedded in the platform’s customer base and misled investors about the problem.
For the first time Tuesday, Twitter’s attorneys specifically disputed Zatko’s assertions he raised such questions while at the company. They noted addressing the bots issue wasn’t a part of his “portfolio” while he oversaw computer-security issues.
Musk’s legal team has made the bot issue the centerpiece of its case that the proposed acquisition can be legally canceled. Twitter counters it’s just a pretext for Musk’s buyer’s remorse and he must pay the $54.20-per-share he originally agreed to in the deal. Twitter shares closed at $38.65 in New York Tuesday.
The company has maintained bots make up fewer than 5% of the network’s accounts. Musk, however, claims as many as a third of Twitter’s users may fall into the bot category. His lawyers complained Twitter is sitting on key evidence in hopes of weakening their case.
While bots on Twitter can annoy users by pushing spam posts, they can also be informative, with bots automatically reporting earthquakes, for example.
The current October trial date is not “remotely achievable,” Musk’s lawyer Andrew Rossman told the judge, saying there have been unreasonable delays in information exchanges. He chided Twitter officials for pushing back pretrial depositions and dragging their feet in handing over documents from current and former employees who handled bot accounts.
“We’re not on pace” to be ready for the October trial, and “it’s not because we’re not working,” he said. Wilson, Twitter’s lawyer, responded the company already turned over Zatko’s internal emails going back to 2021 and “Twitter has nothing to hide.”
Alex Spiro, another of the billionaire’s attorneys, said Musk’s request to push back the trial is part of an effort to protect justice in the fast-moving case. “It all comes down to weighing speed versus finding the truth,” he told McCormick. “Finding that truth is going to take more time. It will take a few more weeks.”
The case is Twitter v. Musk, 22-0613, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).
(Updates with judge reserving decision in third paragraph)
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