Tesla and its fans lash out at critics: commentary


Tesla factory, Fremont, California

Tesla factory, Fremont, California

One of the most vocal critics of electric-car maker Tesla appears to have been silenced.

Known as Montana Skeptic, he wrote 138 articles over three years on the stock-tip website Seeking Alpha.

On Tuesday, he published what he says will be his final article after he claims Elon Musk called his employer and threatened to sue Skeptic over his articles.

It’s worth noting that Seeking Alpha allows authors to publish anonymously, under pseudonyms as Montana Skeptic had. The site requires authors to disclose any stock positions in the companies they cover; Skeptic’s disclosure indicated he held no position in Tesla during his first years of coverage, but that he had taken a short position within the last year.

Cheers and jeers

Some Tesla fans are now rejoicing.

It’s not just CEO Elon Musk going after Tesla critics.

Tesla fans and doubters all over the internet are lashing out with increasing frequency and vigor against almost any coverage of the company they view as insufficiently supportive or insufficiently critical, depending on which side they've chosen.

By drawing such arbitrary lines in the sand, Tesla's vocal critics and supporters have stymied the pace of progress. Worse, they've endangered free speech through intimidation campaigns directed at perceived enemies—when there are very few.

Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal auto critic Dan Neil also deleted his Twitter account after being inundated with criticism of his mostly enthusiastic but nuanced review of Tesla’s new Model 3 Performance sedan.

Montana Skeptic Tweet criticizing Dan Neil's Tesla Model 3 Performance review

Montana Skeptic Tweet criticizing Dan Neil's Tesla Model 3 Performance review

Tesla critics called Neil biased and unprofessional, or suggested that he had been influenced by the owners of The Wall Street Journal—namely NewsCorp, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, and the same company owns Fox News.

Those who know the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer or the newspaper’s editorial policies would doubt those claims.

As Jalopnik wrote, “Can a journalist criticize the company without being called a short or a pawn for Big Oil? Can they write something positive without being called a member of Elon Musk’s cult? Evidently not on both counts.”

Musk responded on Twitter Thursday morning expressing hope that Neil would reinstate his account.

 

Beyond big names

Things have gotten even worse for writers who lack Neil’s clout—perhaps especially for women.

In a May article in the Daily Beast, tech writer Erin Biba noted that female journalists routinely become targets of Tesla fans any time they criticize either Tesla or Musk.

In the article, she notes that every time she or any of several colleagues she interviews in the article mentions Musk on Twitter, they spend half of every day for weeks dealing with a flood of often obscene insults from Musk fans on email and Twitter.


 
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