The Technology 202: Elon Musk’s re-opening win could have long-term consequences for the company’s reputation

The Technology 202: Elon Musk's re-opening win could have long-term consequences for the company's reputation

with Tonya Riley

Elon Musk scored a key victory in resuming production at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant.

But in doing so, he became a polarizing lightning rod at the center of the debate over whether to reopen the economy. 

His public alignment with the Trump administration and reopen protest movement threatens to alienate high end liberal customers. That’s a big gamble for an electric car and clean energy company with a brand closely tied with environmental issues. 

“It further solidifies Musk as a hero and cult icon to some and a villain to others,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives.

Recent backlash against the chief executive highlights that his campaign could have long-term consequences for the company’s brand. 

It’s not yet clear what impact Musk’s decision to reopen the plant could have on sales but on social media, many people are saying they would now never buy a car from Tesla. Many critics have voiced their opposition to the Tesla chief executive’s brash tactics to pressure California officials to reopen the factory on Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottTesla.  

Musk’s detractors included prominent Democrats, including former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich who called on his more than 880,000 Twitter followers to boycott the car company. Even Joan Grande, the mother of the pop star Ariana Grande, said on Twitter she would have to get rid of her Teslas and called for others to boycott the company.  

“How incredibly irresponsible of you,” Joan Grande tweeted last month in response to a tweet from Musk calling to “Free America Now.” “… and you think you are a person of science and technology … you’re a disgrace.” 

Ives said that’s a “risky strategy” for a chief executive to take sides on a divisive political issue when it’s that’s trying to sell to all Americans. 

Musk has been engaging in increasingly erratic tactics to challenge California’s measures to contain the virus — which threatened to impact the company’s financial performance. Last month, he called shelter-in-place orders “fascist” during an expletive-filled rant during the car company’s quarterly earnings call. He escalated his last week when he reopened the Fremont plant in defiance of an Alameda County order, openly daring officials to arrest him. He also threatened to move the factory to another state if California wouldn’t allow him to operate.

Musk has been getting a Twitter boost from the Trumps which could complicate the company’s image as a liberal status symbol. 

He received support in his standoff on Twitter from President Trump, who said Tesla should be able to immediately reopen the plant. But it got even weirder this weekend.  Musk tweeted to “Take the red pill.” The tweet was an apparent reference to a scene in the film “The Matrix,” when the movie’s hero is given the option to take a pill to see the truth. 

But it’s taken on a bigger political meaning in recent years, Nellie Bowles writes in the New York Times. In online forums, it has been embraced by the right to mean waking up to society’s lies. But these “red pill” forums online often contain sexist and racist comments. 

“The truth to be woken up to varied, but it ended up usually being about gender,” Nellie writes. “To be red-pilled meant you discovered that feminism was a scam that ruined the lives of boys and girls. In this view, for a male to refuse the red pill was to be weak.”

Ivanka Trump retweeted Musk, saying she had taken it:

And the president’s son:

Musk’s apparent alignment with the right could prompt soul-searching for liberals who have seen the car company as a status symbol, Nellie reports. The comments can feel deeply personal to some car owners because Musk’s image is so tied to the company’s brand.  

“As a Tesla owner, a 47-year-old male recovering from covid-19, and someone very concerned simultaneously about the environment, the economy, my kids’ and my parents’ future, this ain’t great,” Jeff Guilfoyle, a product manager at FireEye in San Diego, told Nellie. “This disease is no joke, and the long-term health impacts are unknown for survivors.”

When the Times asked Musk to explain what he meant by his “red pill” comment, he pasted an image from the website Urban Dictionary in an email. 

“‘Red pill’ has become a popular phrase among cyberculture and signifies a free-thinking attitude, and a waking up from a ‘normal’ life of sloth and ignorance,” it said. “Red pills prefer the truth, no matter how gritty and painful it may be.” 

Musk has always been a contrarian on Twitter – but his recent moves are an escalation.

It’s not new for Musk to be at the center of controversy online. He’s even gotten into a dispute with the Securities and Exchange Commission about his use of Twitter. 

But the stakes are different this time because employees’ safety is on the line. And if any of the returning workers get sick, it could have legal, regulatory and public relations consequences for the company. 

“There’s a laser focus now on the Tesla factory to make sure there’s no health or safety concerns for workers,” Ives said. “This is only the first chapter of how this book is going to be written.” 

Our top tabs

Users are turning to services such as Google Drive and Internet Archive to share coronavirus misinformation as top social media platforms ramp up efforts to remove it.  

Just days after Facebook, YouTube and Twitter banned a viral video sharing coronavirus conspiracy theories, a YouTube video directing users to a file on Google Drive appeared, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. 

Google took down the Drive file featuring the movie after the company was contacted by The Post, but the file was just one of dozens of ways users were spreading the conspiracy theory video without detection. Researchers have found dozens of clips and trailers for the “Plandemic” conspiracy video on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok in the past week. Many of the clips are edited to remove claims from the movie that resulted in its ban, but include a link out to the full video.

“The social media companies are playing a giant game of whack-a-mole,” said Eric Feinberg, vice president of content moderation at Coalition for a Safer Web, who found the videos. YouTube removed five out of the 12 videos found by Feinberg after Elizabeth contacted them.

The videos conspiracy is also spreading on TikTok, where the term “Plandemic” has more than 1.9 million searches and Feinberg has found more than two dozen uploads of the video in the past three days.

And it’s not just the “Plandemic” video researchers are worried about. In another instance, users got around a Facebook ban on a Medium post that made false claims about the number of coronavirus deaths in China by sharing an archived version. Internet Archive, the site that hosted the old version of the article, said it would begin alerting users if they interact with material taken down or debunked. 

Facebook will launch a new shopping feature that allows small businesses to list their products across its platforms.

The company sees the feature as a boon for small businesses that have seen sales drop during the coroanvirus pandemic.

“When you walk down the road, or I guess when you used to walk down the street, not every shop was the same,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a live stream announcing the new feature. “We built Facebook Shops with this in mind.”

Having the same system across Facebook’s products will result in “higher conversions and more sales,” Zuckerberg said. Shops is free for businesses, but Zuckerberg said he hopes that it will drive businesses to pay more for advertising on Facebook.  

A limited number of businesses will also be able to sell products directly through Facebook’s Checkout, the company’s payments system, though it’s unclear how much the platform will charge for sales.

The announcement caused the stock price for e-commerce platform Shopify to plummet – until Zuckerberg announced the company was partnering with Facebook to handle logistics for Checkout. The New York Times’s Mike Isaac:

Scammers are posing as coronavirus contact tracers to steal personal information, the Federal Trade Commission warns. 

The scammers are sending text messages posing as state and local health department employees hired to get the names and phone numbers of people with covid-19. But unlike legitimate tracers, the scammers are asking for sensitive information such as people’s Social Security numbers, as well as financial details such as bank account and credit card information.

A legitimate text message from a contact tracer will inform a recipient to expect a call from the health department, wrote Colleen Tressler, a consumer education specialist at the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC didn’t say how many contact-tracing scams consumers have reported, but the warning comes amid a rapid surge in coronavirus-related fraud. The agency suggests that users filter text messages from unknown senders that may be spam.

Trump tracker

The tech industry should work with the government to help the economy recover after the pandemic, a White House advisory panel said.

The White House American Workforce Policy Advisory Board called for “an unprecedented investment in digital infrastructure” that will create jobs for workers displaced by the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. Members of the board include IBM, Walmart, Salesforce and Workday, which announced yesterday they would work together to create an interoperable job applications system.

Agency scanner

More than 2,000 Americans have had issues with their Internet providers during the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC says.

At least 500 of the complaints were related to the agency’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which 750 companies have signed as a promise to not shut off Internet and phone service for Americans who can’t pay their bills during the pandemic.     

About three-quarters of the total complaints have received responses from carriers, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee during a virtual conference yesterday.

Coronavirus fallout

Facebook will limit offices to 25 percent capacity and require temperature checks when offices re-open in July.

Staff will also be required to wear masks, Mark Gurman and Kurt Wagner at Bloomberg News report. The company does not plan on offering covid-19 testing and is encouraging employees who are able to work from home to do so through 2021.

More coronavirus news:


Rant and rave

Bloomberg Beta’s Roy Bahat expressed doubt that the denizens of Twitter still kept their morning routines. 

“Billions” co-creator Brian Koppelman, who has started a trend of users tweeting their morning coffee to encourage food bank donations, disagreed: 

What are your thoughts? Send us your morning routine tips on Twitter!


  • Data and Society Institute will host a digital discussion on the future of labor organizing today at 6 p.m.
  • The House Homeland Security Committee will host a panel on extremism during the pandemic today at 1 p.m.

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Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin is every parent explaining Internet culture:

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