MacAskill Had Direct Line To Elon Musk, Tried To Get Bankman-Fried In On Twitter Deal
"You vouch for him?" "Very much so!"
William MacAskill was a major figure in the career of disgraced FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF). He is reportedly the one who personally convinced Bankman-Fried of “his life’s mission,” recommended that he get a job at Jane Street, and offered him a job working for the Centre for Effective Altruism in San Fransisco, whose CEO co-founded Alameda Research with SBF a short while later.
Once SBF gained control over billions of dollars and founded the FTX Foundation, MacAskill was put on the board of its “Future Fund,” helping to direct its fire hose of million dollar bills toward “EA-approved” charities, including his own organization.
There are a lot of ways to illustrate how well-connected MacAskill is (and has been for years), especially for a young Oxford philosopher, but here’s one of them: he had a direct line to Elon Musk. Not only that – he also personally introduced Musk to Bankman-Fried, “vouched” for him, and lobbied for Musk to make his Twitter acquisition a “joint effort” with Bankman-Fried.
The following is a text conversation between MacAskill and Musk, and later, Bankman-Fried as well. This was made public along with a host of other texts from Musk’s phone as part of his legal battle with Twitter earlier this year. (See p. 87-90 of this document. Screenshots of the relevant messages can be seen here, and OCR scans can be read here and here.)
MacAskill and Musk, March 29 – April 1, 2022:
William MacAskill: Hey – I saw your poll on twitter about Twitter and free speech. I’m not sure if this is what’s on your mind, but my collaborator Sam Bankman-Fried (https://www.forbes.com/profile/sam-bankman-fried/?sh=4de9866a4449) has for a while been potentially interested in purchasing it and then making it better for the world. If you want to talk with him about a possible joint effort in that direction, his number is [redacted] and he’s on Signal.
Elon Musk: Does he have huge amounts of money?
William MacAskill: Depends on how you define “huge”! He’s worth $24B, and his early employees (with shared values) bump that to $30B. I asked about how much he could in principle contribute and he said: “~$1-3b would be easy-$3-8b I could do ~$8-15b is maybe possible but would require financing”
William MacAskill: If you were interested to discuss the idea I asked and he said he’d be down to meet you in Austin
William MacAskill: He’s based in the Bahamas normally. And I might visit Austin next week, if you’d be around?
Elon Musk: That’s a start
William MacAskill: Would you like me to intro you two via text?
Elon Musk: You vouch for him?
William MacAskill: Very much so! Very dedicated to making the long-term future of humanity go well
Elon Musk: Ok then sure
William MacAskill: Great! Will use Signal
William MacAskill: (Signal doesn’t work; used imessage instead)
Elon Musk: Ok
William MacAskill: And in case you want to get a feel for Sam, here’s the Apr 1st tweet from his foundation, the Future Fund, which I’m advising on -I thought you might like it:
William MacAskill: https://twitter.com/ftxfuturefund/status/1509924452422717440?s=20&t=0qjM58KUj49xSGa0qae97Q
William MacAskill: And here’s the actual (more informative) launch tweet· moving $100M-$1B this year to improve the future of humanity:
William MacAskill: https://twitter.com/ftxfuturefund/status/1498350483206860801
Group chat that MacAskill sets up between himself, Musk, and Bankman-Fried, March 31 – April 2, 2022:
William MacAskill: Hey, here’s introducing you both, Sam and Elon. You both have interests in games, making the very long-run future go well, and buying Twitter. So I think you’d have a good conversation!
Sam Bankman-Fried: Great to meet you Elon-happy to chat about Twitter (or other things) whenever!
Elon Musk: Hi!
Elon Musk: Maybe we can talk later today? I’m in Germany.
Sam Bankman-Fried: I’m on EST-could talk sometime between 7pm and 10pm Germany time today?
That’s where the text thread appears to end, but Musk has said that he did ultimately end up talking to Bankman-Fried, but was not impressed, and that Bankman-Fried did not end up participating in the Twitter deal.
MacAskill Called Out
If you find this conversation curious, you’re not alone: MacAskill’s own “community” has a lot of questions about it too. For instance, one member of the Effective Altruism Forum, replying directly to MacAskill, asks:
You played the role of a messenger between SBF and Elon Musk in a bid for SBF to invest up to 15 billion of (presumably mostly his) wealth in an acquisition of Twitter. The stated reason for that bid was to make Twitter better for the world. This has worried me a lot over the last weeks. It could have easily been the most consequential thing EAs have ever done and there has – to my knowledge- never been a thorough EA debate that signalled that this would be a good idea. What was the reasoning behind the decision to support SBF by connecting him to Musk? How many people from FTXFF or EA at large were consulted to figure out if that was a good idea? Do you think that it still made sense at the point you helped with the potential acquisition to regard most of the wealth of SBF as EA resources? If not, why did you not inform the EA community?
Another says in part:
I think that in light of what is recently going on with SBF, FTX, Elon Musk and Twitter this involvement warrants a response from Will (different than the general response to the FTX debacle) – a response both to the community and to media at large. The story is already spreading across media big and small, serious and tabloid and a reaction is very much needed.
I also have questions about Will Macaskill’s ties with Elon Musk, his introduction of SBF to Elon Musk, his willingness to help SBF put up to 5 billion dollars towards the acquisition of Twitter alongside Musk, and the lack of engagement with the EA community about these actions. We talk a lot about being effective with our dollars and there are so many debates around how to spend even small amounts of money (eg. at EA events or on small EA projects), but it appears that helping SBF put up to 5 billion towards Twitter to buy in with a billionaire who recently advocated voting for the Republican party in the midterms didn’t require that same level of discussion/evaluation/scrutiny. (I understand that it wasn’t Will’s money and possibly SBF couldn’t have been talked into putting it towards other causes instead, but Will still made the introduction nonetheless.)
One member opines that they “don’t think the texts here were shady or wrong at all. Musk was clearly looking for people to buy Twitter with him, and Will happened to be a mutual contact. Trying to put them in touch seems pretty reasonable to me,” to which someone else replies:
Attempting to frame this as MacAskill simply putting them in touch is fairly astonishing. From the texts alone:
MacAskill laid out monetary amounts for the offers of Bankman-Fried’s investment in Twitter.
“He’s worth $24B, and his early employees (with shared values) bump that to $30B. I asked about how much he could in principle contribute and he said: “~$1-3b would be easy ~3-8b I could do ~$8-15b is maybe possible but would require financing.”
Then, when Musk explicitly asked if he would vouch for Sam Bankman-Fried. MacAskill vouched for him enthusiastically, linking explicitly to SBF’s dedication to longtermism.
“You vouch for him?”
“Very much so! Very dedicated to making the long-term future of humanity go well.”
I do not understand how this can be characterised as just putting them in touch.
Another member says:
I think seeing it as “just putting two people in touch” is narrow. It’s about judgement on whether to get involved in highly controversial commercial deal which was expected to significantly influence discourse norms, and therefore polarisation, in years to come. As far as I can tell, EA overall and Will specifically do not have skills / knowhow in this domain. Introducing Elon to Sam is not just like making a casual introduction; if everything SBF was doing was based on EA, then this feels like EA wading in on the future of Twitter via the influence of SBFs money. […] I’d like to know the thinking behind this move by Will and anyone else involved. For my part, I think this was unwise, should have had more consultation around it. I would consider disavowing the community if people start to get more involved in: 1) big potentially world-changing decisions which – to me – it looks like they don’t have the wider knowledge or skillset to take on well, or 2) incredibly controversial projects like the Twitter acquisition, and doing so through covert back-channels with limited consultation.
These are among some of the most highly upvoted posts in response to MacAskill’s only public statement about FTX so far from his own “community” – hundreds of upvotes combined. Some have been truncated above for brevity, but the full posts are available at the provided links, and one can browse the full thread for more discussion.
MacAskill has thus far declined to address these and many other questions.
Musk’s connection to “effective altruism” goes back to at least 2015, when he participated in the Effective Altruism Global Conference in Mountain View, CA. The event was hosted by the Centre for Effective Altruism, of which MacAskill is co-founder and President.
Earlier this year, Musk recommended MacAskill’s book on Twitter, saying: “This is a close match for my own philosophy.”