SAN FRANCISCO — Bright and early on Monday, Elon Musk sent the government a surprising new document.
In it, the world’s wealthiest man laid out his possible intentions toward Twitter, in which he has amassed a 9.2 percent stake, underlining how drastically his position had changed from a week ago.
Mr. Musk could, if he chose, buy more shares of Twitter and increase his ownership of the company, according to the document, which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He could freely express his views about Twitter on social media or other channels, the document noted. And he reserved the right to “change his plans at any time, as he deems appropriate.”
It was a promise — or perhaps it was a threat. Either way, the filing encapsulated the treacherous situation that Twitter now finds itself in. Mr. Musk, 50, Twitter’s largest shareholder and one of its highest-profile users, could very well use the social media platform against itself and even buy enough shares to take over the company.
“Twitter has always suffered more than its fair share of dysfunction,” said Jason Goldman, who was on Twitter’s founding team and served on its board of directors in the past. “But at least we weren’t being actively trolled by prospective board members using the product we created.”
Twitter’s 11-person board and agreed to not own more than 14.9 percent of the company or take it over. Then on Sunday, Twitter abruptly said all of those bets were off and that Mr. Musk would not become a director.
What exactly went on between Mr. Musk, who has more than 81 million followers on Twitter, and the company’s executives and board members is unclear. But it leaves Twitter — which has survived founder infighting, boardroom revolts and outside shareholder ire — with an activist investor unlike any other.
Mr. Musk, who also leads the electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket company SpaceX, is known for being unpredictable and outspoken, often using Twitter to criticize, insult and troll others. By no longer joining the board, he liberated himself from corporate governance rules that would have required him to act in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.
Mr. Musk leaned into that freedom after his decision was communicated to the company on Saturday morning. He proclaimed on Twitter that he was in “goblin mode” and suggested changes such as removing the “w” from the company’s name to make it more vulgar and opening its San Francisco headquarters to shelter the homeless. He later deleted some of the posts.
“This is not typical activism or, frankly, anything like activism that we’ve seen before,” said Ele Klein, co-chair of the global Shareholder Activism Group at the law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. “Elon Musk doesn’t do things that people have seen before.”
a post on Sunday. Twitter, which published a biography of Mr. Musk as a member of its board that was still visible late Sunday, declined to comment on Monday.
Mr. Musk has long shown significant disrespect for corporate governance rules. In 2018, he faced securities fraud charges after inaccurately tweeting that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. Mr. Musk later agreed to pay a $20 million fine to the S.E.C. and step aside as Tesla chairman for three years.
He also agreed to allow Tesla to review his public statements about the company. But in 2019, the S.E.C. asked a judge to hold him in contempt for violating the settlement terms by continuing to errantly tweet about Tesla.
Inside Twitter on Monday, employees were dismayed and concerned by Mr. Musk’s antics, according to half a dozen current and former workers, who were not authorized to speak publicly. After the billionaire suggested over the weekend that Twitter convert its headquarters into a homeless shelter because “no one shows up anyway,” employees questioned how Mr. Musk would know that given that he hadn’t visited the building in some time. They also pointed out that Mr. Musk, whose net worth has been pegged at more than $270 billion, could easily afford to help San Francisco’s homeless himself.