Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter has generated plenty of headlines.
But one headline being shared on Instagram suggests the Biden administration has initiated a federal investigation into Musk’s activities.
“BREAKING: Biden admin launches investigation into Elon Musk,” read what appeared to be the headline in a screengrab of a tweet from conservative media personality Ben Swann.
“The timing of this scrutiny against Musk makes the picture abundantly clear,” Swann’s tweet read. “Because he is not willing to advance the U.S. government’s attempts to destroy peace and free speech around the world, he is a threat.”
Swann shared the screenshot in a Nov. 4 Instagram post plugging an op-ed for Gateway Pundit, a conservative news site that has spread misinformation. The op-ed further claimed, “The Biden Department of Justice announced its investigation into Musk’s acquisition of Twitter,” and linked to a video showing Swann saying the same.
The Instagram post was flagged as part of Instagram’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
Although Musk’s activities have prompted some federal officials to discuss opening an investigation, the Biden administration has made no formal announcement about one being underway. Before the sale, a court filing by Twitter asserted that federal authorities were investigating Musk, but it was short on details. And in a Nov. 9 press conference, Biden suggested he believes such an investigation would have merit.
Here’s what we know.
Before the sale’s close, Twitter wrote in an Oct. 9 court filing that Musk was being investigated by federal authorities for his conduct in the takeover deal. “While the filing said he was under investigations, it did not say what the exact focus of the probes was and which federal authorities are conducting them,” Reuters reported.
On Oct. 31 — four days after the Twitter sale closed — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., published an open letter to the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States requesting an investigation into Musk’s activities.
The investigation, Murphy wrote, would seek to understand “potential national security concerns” arising from “a number of foreign private investors,” including members of the Saudi Arabian royal family and the kingdom of Qatar.
Among the foreign backers who contributed capital to fund the financing for the $44 billion takeover was Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who committed $1.89 billion, Reuters reported.
“Setting aside the vast stores of data that Twitter has collected on American citizens, any potential that Twitter’s foreign ownership will result in increased censorship, misinformation, or political violence is a grave national security concern,” Murphy wrote. “Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world, with little to no tolerance for free expression.”
Murphy does not have unilateral authority to launch the investigation on his own.
Separately, The Washington Post on Nov. 2 cited unnamed sources in a report that said federal officials are considering whether to formally investigate the purchase.
Biden was asked about his thoughts on Musk during his post-election press conference at the White House on Nov. 9. Biden suggested he believed there could be merit in such a probe but stopped short of saying anything was underway.
This was the exchange:
Reporter: “Mr. President, do you think Elon Musk is a threat to U.S. national security? And should the U.S. — and with the tools you have — investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis?”
Biden: “I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at. Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that (it’s) worth being looked at. But that’s all I’ll say.”
Biden: “There’s a lot of ways.”
The president then called on another journalist, and the topic did not come up again.
Musk has also drawn the attention of federal regulators, according to reports.
The Verge, a technology news site, on Nov. 10 that Musk was exposing Twitter to potentially accruing “billions” in regulatory fines and credited an unnamed Federal Trade Commission official with saying that it was tracking recent developments at Twitter with “deep concern”. The official mentioned the commission’s revised consent order, which restricts what the company can do with regard to users’ private data.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.