Elon Musk and complimentary speech: Track record not motivating

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk participates in the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the world’s most affluent individual on paper, is purchasing Twitter, the social networks platform he has actually depended on for many years to promote his interests and form his public image.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” stated Mr. Musk in a declaration when the offer was revealed Monday.

Musk has actually identified himself as a First Amendment and complimentary speech supporter for many years, for instance, in protecting himself in a disparagement suit after calling a critic a “pedo guy” (Musk won), and to argue that the SEC infringed on his rights in a settlement contract they struck and modified after the firm charged him with securities scams in 2018.

But as The Atlantic, Bloomberg and others have actually explained, Musk’s complimentary speech advocacy appears to use primarily to his own speech or that of his fans and promoters. TechDirt argues that Musk does not have a severe understanding of complimentary speech and even less about content small amounts.

Workers’ speech

When it concerns his workers’ complimentary speech, Musk shows little tolerance.

Under his management, when Tesla has actually laid off workers, it’s asked to sign separation arrangements consisting of a strong non-disparagement provision without any end-date. These type of arrangements are not unusual in the market, however Musk is far from a free-speech absolutist here.

A copy of one such contract from Tesla, shown CNBC by a previous worker laid off in 2018 (who did not sign the contract) stated:

“You agree not to disparage Tesla, the Company’s products, or the Company’s officers, directors, employees, shareholders and agents, affiliates and subsidiaries in any manner likely to be harmful to them or their business, business reputation or personal reputation.”

In the very same file, Tesla needed laid off workers to keep information about the separation contract itself concealed, besides from their own attorney, accounting professional or instant household– not even other employees.

“The provisions of this Agreement will be held in strictest confidence by you and will not be publicized or disclosed in any manner whatsoever,” the contract stated. “In particular, and without limitation, you agree not to disclose the terms of this Agreement to any current or former Company employee or contractor.”

Like most big business, Tesla likewise needs employees to sign an arbitration contract upon work. That suggests to speak easily in court, where their speech will enter into a public record, employees require to get an exemption from the arbitration contract from a judge initially.

Under Musk’s management, Tesla ratings of employees have actually declared racist, sexist and other kinds of harassment, discrimination and hazardous working conditions. Many have actually likewise declared retaliation after they spoke up about issues.

These accusations have actually remained in the spotlight just recently since of a recently exposed probe by the EEOC, and a claim by the California civil liberties firm, however the business has a long performance history.

In August 2018, a previous Tesla security worker, Karl Hansen, submitted a problem with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stating he was wrongfully ended from his task as a private investigator at the business’s battery plant in Sparks, Nevada, after sounding the alarm about the theft of 10s of countless dollars’ worth of basic materials there. Tesla concealed the theft from investors, he declared, although it represented a product quantity of cash to the car manufacturer at the time.

In November 2020, previous Tesla worker Stephen Henkes stated he was fired from his task at Tesla on Aug. 3, 2020, after raising security issues internally then submitting protests with federal government workplaces, when the business stopped working to repair and interact properly with consumers over what he stated were inappropriate fire threats in the business’s solar setups. Both the CPSC and SEC are thinking about Henkes’ problems as proof.

Free press

Musk has actually consistently looked for control over what reporters, blog writers, experts and other scientists state about his services, their items, and himself.

Memorably, the Tesla CEO scolded and cut off an expert on a revenues hire 2018. “Excuse me, next, next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool,” the CEO stated after a concern about his business’s capital requirements. The car manufacturer had actually simply published its worst quarterly loss in its history. Musk later on excused this, and now in some cases avoids speaking on Tesla profits calls.

Musk and Tesla have actually likewise asked press reporters to sign NDAs or reveal story drafts to the business to get approvals prior to publishing.

He has actually brazenly gotten in touch with fans to modify his bio on Wikipedia. “Just looked at my wiki for 1st time in years. It’s insane!” Musk tweeted. “Btw, can someone please delete ‘investor.’ I do basically zero investing,” he stated. His legions of fans required, modifying the page to de-emphasize his financial investments.

Musk even takes umbrage with fan blog sites when they blog about Tesla’s imperfections.

At his instructions, Tesla stopped welcoming some Electrek personnel to business occasions after the website — which has actually progressed into more of an electrical automobile blog site over the last few years — released a story with this heading, Tesla is charging owners $1,500 for hardware they currently spent for. The story was precise if embarrassing to Musk since it resolves his business’s failure in the race to provide self-governing automobile tech to long-waiting consumers.

Customers’ speech

Musk and Tesla have actually likewise looked for — not constantly effectively — to silence consumers. For example, Tesla utilized to oblige consumers to sign arrangements consisting of non-disclosure stipulations as a requirement to have their automobiles fixed.

In 2021, Tesla asked consumers to concur not to publish seriously to social networks about FSD Beta, a speculative motorist support software application plan that some Tesla owners might evaluate out utilizing their own cars and trucks and overdue time to do so.

In a contract that Tesla sent out to chauffeurs previously this year for FSD Beta gain access to, the business asked to “keep your experiences in the program confidential” and not to “share any information about this program with the public” consisting of by taking screenshots, producing post, or publishing to social networks websites.

Tesla called Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube as websites where owners ought to not share information about their usage of FSD Beta, according to a copy of the complete contract gotten by CNBC.

Musk later on raised Tesla’s terms for access to FSD Beta stating no one was complying with the contract anyhow. But the practice triggered a probe by the federal automobile security authority, NHTSA.

“Given that NHTSA relies on reports from consumers as an important source of information in evaluating potential safety defects, any agreement that may prevent or dissuade participants in the early access beta release program from reporting safety concerns to NHTSA is unacceptable,” NHSA composed in a letter to Tesla in October 2021.

Meanwhile, in China, Tesla has actually taken legal action against consumers who grumbled about security problems with their cars and trucks, and took legal action against a social networks influencer there for character assassination. The influencer, Xiaogang Xuezhang, published a video showing problems with Tesla’s and another car manufacturers’ automatic emergency situation braking systems.


Tesla and Musk lawyers have actually likewise regularly submitted private treatment ask for legal and company filings in the United States.

Among other things, Tesla looked for to conceal from the general public view: automobile security details that federal vehicle regulators looked for from the business as a regular investigative practice, and company details Tesla utilized to look for tax aids from the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority.

Attorneys on behalf of Tesla and Musk have actually likewise attempted to keep records and videos of worker and executive statement concealed in cases prior to the Delaware Chancery court and other courts.

Free speech for me

Musk has actually definitely worked out complimentary speech rights for himself and his business.

Recently, he stated SpaceX satellite web service Starlink would keep Russian news sources online, regardless of what Musk stated were calls to obstruct these by un-named federal governments in the middle of Putin’s ruthless intrusion of Ukraine.

“Starlink has been told by some governments (not Ukraine) to block Russian news sources. We will not do so unless at gunpoint,” Musk composed. “Sorry to be a free speech absolutist.”

On the labor front, Musk is likewise combating an administrative court judgment which stated he needs to eliminate a tweet from his feed since it breaks employees’ rights. The tweet, published in 2018, stated: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

At Tesla, Musk has actually shirked the requirement to have a securities law professional pre-approve a few of his tweets prior to publishing them, regardless of the settlement contract he struck with the SEC after it charged him with civil securities scams.

Musk informed Lesley Stahl in a 2018 interview that typically his tweets are not monitored, although a court had actually bought him to have a few of them pre-approved by securities law compliance specialists at Tesla if they included details most likely to effect Tesla’s stock rate. During that interview he stated, “Hello First Amendment. Free speech is fundamental…”

Assuming he genuinely thinks that, then Musk’s complimentary speech absolutism is just aspirational.

But by managing the social media, Musk can secure his capability to keep utilizing Twitter to promote his business, financial investments and himself, as he wishes to be seen.


News and digital media editor, writer, and communications specialist. Passionate about social justice, equity, and wellness. Covering the news, viewing it differently.

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