Elon Musk and Freedom of Speech: The track record is not encouraging

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

Ali’s song Reuters

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the world’s richest man on paper, is buying Twitter, a social networking platform he has relied on over the years to advance his interests and shape his public image.

“Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is a digital urban space where issues vital to the future of humanity are discussed,” Mr Musk said in a statement when the deal was announced on Monday.

Musk has characterized himself as a defender of the First Amendment and freedom of speech for years, for example, defending himself in a defamation lawsuit after calling criticism a “pedagogical guy” (Musk won) and claiming the SEC violated his rights in a peace deal they concluded and reconsidered after the agency accused him of securities fraud in 2018.

But, as noted by The Atlantic, Bloomberg and others, Mask’s freedom of speech propaganda seems to apply mainly to his own speech or the speeches of his supporters and promoters. TechDirt argues that Mask lacks a serious understanding of free speech and even less about moderating content.

Workers’ speech

When it comes to the freedom of speech of his employees, Musk shows little tolerance.

Under his leadership, when Tesla fired employees, they were asked to sign division agreements, including a strong non-humiliation clause with no expiration date. Such agreements are not uncommon in the industry, but Musk is far from an absolute freedom of speech.

A copy of one such agreement with Tesla, shared with CNBC by a former employee fired in 2018 (who did not sign the agreement), reads:

“You agree not to degrade Tesla, the products of the company or officials, directors, employees, shareholders and agents, affiliates and subsidiaries in any way that could harm them or their business, business reputation or personal reputation.”

In the same document, Tesla demanded that the fired employees hide details about the separation agreement itself, except from their own lawyer, accountant or close relatives – not even from other employees.

“The provisions of this Agreement shall be kept strictly confidential and shall not be published or disclosed in any way,” the agreement said. “In particular, and without limitation, you agree not to disclose the terms of this Agreement to either current or former employees or contractors of the Company.”

Like most large companies, Tesla also requires employees to sign an arbitration agreement when hiring. That is, in order to speak freely in court, where their speech will be part of a public record, employees must first obtain an exemption from the arbitration agreement from the judge.

Under Mask’s leadership, dozens of Tesla workers claim they are racist, sexist and other types of harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. Many also declared revenge after talking about the problems.

These allegations have been in the spotlight recently due to a recent EEOC investigation and a lawsuit by the California Civil Rights Agency, but the company has a long track record.

In August 2018, a former Tesla security officer, Carl Hansen, filed a complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that he was illegally fired as an investigator at the company’s battery plant in Sparks, Nevada, after killing an alarm about there the theft of raw materials for tens of millions of dollars. Tesla hid the theft from shareholders, he argued, although at the time it represented a substantial amount of money for the automaker.

In November 2020, former Tesla employee Stephen Henkes said he was fired from Tesla on August 3, 2020 after internally expressing security concerns and then filed formal complaints with government agencies when the company failed to fix and speak accurately with customers. he said the unacceptable fire risks in the company’s solar installations. Both the CPSC and the SEC view Henkes’ complaints as evidence.

Free press

Musk has repeatedly sought to control what journalists, bloggers, analysts and other researchers say about his business, their products and himself.

Recall that Tesla’s CEO scolded and cut off the analyst during a revenue call in 2018. “Sorry, next, next. Boring, silly questions are not cool, ”the CEO said after asking about his company’s capital requirements. The automaker has just posted the worst quarterly losses in its history. Musk later apologized for it, and now sometimes misses talks on Tesla’s revenue calls.

Musk and Tesla also asked reporters to sign the NDA or show drafts of campaign stories to get approval before publication.

He brazenly urged followers to edit his biography on Wikipedia. “Just looked at my wiki for the first time in years. It’s crazy!” Musk tweeted. By the way, someone can remove the “investor”. I hardly invest, “he said. His legions of followers pledged to edit the page to reduce the focus on his investment.

Musk even resents fan blogs when they write about Tesla’s flaws.

According to him, Tesla stopped inviting some Electrek employees to the company’s events after the site, which in recent years has become a blog about electric cars, published a story with the following title: Tesla takes from the owners $ 1,500 for equipment for which they have already paid. The story was accurate, albeit humiliating to Mask, because it concerns his company’s failure in the race to supply autonomous car technology to customers who have been waiting a long time.

Customer performance

Musk and Tesla also tried – not always successfully – to silence customers. For example, Tesla previously forced customers to sign agreements that contained non-disclosure clauses as a prerequisite for repairing their cars.

In 2021, Tesla asked customers to agree not to write critically on social media about FSD Beta, an experimental driver assistance software package that some Tesla owners could test using their own cars and free time for doing so.

In an agreement that Tesla sent to drivers earlier this year to access the FSD beta, the company asked them to “keep your program experience confidential” and “do not share any information about this program with the public,” including taking screenshots. by creating blog posts or social media posts.

According to a copy of the full agreement obtained by CNBC, Tesla has named Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube sites where owners should not share information about their use of FSD Beta.

Musk later lifted Tesla’s terms of access to FSD Beta, saying no one was fulfilling the agreement anyway. But this practice has sparked an investigation by the federal vehicle safety authority, NHTSA.

“Given that NHTSA relies on consumer reports as an important source of information when assessing potential security flaws, any agreement that may prevent or discourage early access beta participants from reporting security issues to NHTSA is unacceptable,” NHSA said. Tesla’s letter in October 2021.

In China, meanwhile, Tesla has sued customers who complained about the safety of their cars, and sued an influential social media representative for libel. Xiaogan Xuezhang posted a video showing problems with automated emergency braking systems by Tesla and other automakers.


Tesla and Musk’s attorneys have also consistently filed requests for confidential appeals on legal and business files in the United States.

Among other things, Tesla sought to hide from the public: vehicle safety information that federal regulators requested from the company as a common investigative practice, and business information that Tesla used for tax subsidies at the California Office of Alternative Energy and Advanced Vehicles. .

Lawyers on behalf of Tesla and Mask also tried to hide transcripts and videos of testimonies from staff and the executive in cases before the Delaware Chancellery and other courts.

Freedom of speech for me

Musk certainly exercised his freedom of speech rights for himself and his companies.

He recently said that the satellite Internet service SpaceX Starlink will keep Russian news sources online, despite the fact that Musk, according to Musk, called for blocking them by unnamed governments amid Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

“Some governments (not Ukraine) have ordered Starlink to block Russian news sources. We will not do this until we are under the gun, ”Musk wrote. “Sorry I’m an absolutist of free speech.”

As for work, Musk is also struggling with an administrative court ruling that he should remove the tweet from his tape because it violates workers ’rights. A tweet posted in 2018 said: “Nothing prevents the Tesla team at our car plant from voting in the union. Could do it tmrw if they wanted to. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? ”

At Tesla, Musk evaded the requirement for a securities expert to pre-approve some of his tweets before publishing them, despite a settlement agreement he struck with the SEC after she accused him of fraud with civil securities.

Musk told Leslie Stall in a 2018 interview that his tweets are not usually monitored, even if a court has ordered him to pre-approve some of their Tesla securities compliance experts if they contain information that could affect Tesla’s stock price. During this interview, he said: “Hello, first amendment. Freedom of speech is fundamental …”

Assuming he really believes in this, the absolutism of Mask’s free speech is just an aspiration.

But by controlling the social network, Musk can defend his ability to continue to use Twitter to promote his companies, investments and himself as he wants to be seen.

Elon Musk and Freedom of Speech: The track record is not encouraging

Source link Elon Musk and Freedom of Speech: The track record is not encouraging

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