Is Elon Musk REALLY a ‘free speech absolutist’? Billionaire ‘fired workers for bringing up safety fears, cracked down on ex-staff by using indefinite gagging clauses’ and got followers to change his ‘insane’ Wikipedia page
- Musk, 50, has used used his companies and online following to silence critics
- The billionaire vowed to protect free speech and called on his ‘worst critics’ to remain on Twitter as he finalized a deal to buy the website on Monday
- Tesla was ordered to re-hire an employee who was fired after trying to unionize the staff at the company’s Fremont, California facility
- A federal agency also ordered Musk to delete a ‘coercive’ anti-union tweet
- A former employee says he was fired after bringing up fire risks on solar panels
- Tesla has even sought to silence what customers can say about their own Tesla vehicles on social media; It sued a Chinese influencer for defamation this year
He bills himself a ‘free speech absolutist’ and has vowed to turn Twitter into a bastion of open commentary.
But billionaire Elon Musk has been accused of infringing it a number of times in the past himself.
Ex-Tesla staff are among those to have criticized the 50-year-old for clamping down on them when they went against the company line.
Former employees say the firm silenced them with indefinite non-disclosure agreements and even fired them for bringing up safety concerns.
The electric care producer has asked staff to sign NDAs with no clear expiration date before laying them off, according to a copy of an agreement obtained by CNBC.
It has also cracked down on workers who tried to unionize. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to reinstate a fired union activist who complained of arm pain from repetitive motions from working 12-hour shifts.
The censorship extended to customers, who were previously asked to sign an NDA before having their cars repaired. Earlier this year, the company also sued an influencer in China for defamation after he posted a video on China’s version of TikTok showing issues with the automated braking system on the Model 3.
Musk – worth a reported $242.3 billion – has used his bully pulpit to protect his image, directing his die-hard fans to edit his ‘insane’ Wikipedia page to downplay his investments.
In 2020, a former Tesla employee sued the company alleging that he was fired for bringing up concerns about fire risks in its solar panels.
Now, Twitter employees are concerned about the entrepreneur’s plans for the social media site, even after he tried to assuage them by calling for his ‘worst critics’ to remain on the platform because ‘that is what free speech means.’
Musk dismissed such fears on Tuesday afternoon, tweeting: ‘The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.’
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, 50, vowed to protect free speech and called for his ‘worst critics’ to remain on Twitter as he finalized a deal to buy the platform on Monday
Former Tesla employees say they’ve been fired after bringing up safety or trying to unionize the electric car maker
Last year, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Tesla to hire back production worker Richard Ortiz (second from left), who was fired after leading a union effort at the company
In a lawsuit filed November 2020, former Tesla solar field quality manager Stephen Henkes said he was fired for bringing up concerns about fire risks in solar panels
On Tuesday afternoon, Musk called out the ‘extreme’ reaction from those concerned about his motives with Twitter
There was uproar in internal message rooms at Twitter after Musk’s purchase bid was accepted on Monday.
‘I feel like im going to throw up..I rly don’t wanna work for a company that is owned by Elon Musk,’ one staffer said, according to New York Times reporter Talmon Smith.
‘I hate him, why does he even want this?’
One employee, Eric Farraro, tweeted: ‘The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID.’
Another employee, Chloe Barnes, wrote: ‘Totally understand that this is entertainment for some, but please understand that this is certainly not entertainment for me,’ according to the Washington Post.
Twitter staff are worried Musk will undo the work the company has put into content moderation meant to prevent abuse.
On its website, the social media site outlines the types of content not allowed, including ‘hateful’ conduct, abuse and harassment, suicide or self harm and sexual violence and assault.
Staff were also concerned about their stock compensation, and whether share prices would go down as he seeks to take the company private.
On Monday, Musk tweeted: ‘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.’
But he’s previously sought to silence criticism by asking laid-off Tesla employees to sign separation agreements with stringent NDAs.
Twitter employees are now concerned that Musk will bring his mercurial ways to Twitter
One such agreement reads: ‘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,’ according to CNBC.
Some Twitter users called it a ‘great’ time for workers at the website to unionize, though Musk has shown little appreciation for such efforts in the past.
Former Tesla production worker Richard Ortiz said he lost strength in his right arm during his time working for the car maker.
‘I want to use my arm when I’m retired,’ he told The Guardian in 2017, adding that there was ‘mass disappointment’ over working conditions and injuries at the company.
Tesla employee Michael Sanchez testified that he and another organizer were accosted by security guards while handing out union leaflets outside of Tesla’s Fremont, California facility
Last year, the company was ordered to stop any rule that ‘prohibits off-duty employees from distributing union literature in the employees’ parking lot’
A prominent union activist at the company’s Fremont plant, he was fired in October 2017 for allegedly sharing screenshots of employees’ internal profiles on Facebook, according to Tesla.
Last March, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that Tesla re-hire Ortiz with back pay and benefits after finding that the company tried to suppress his efforts.
The agency also ordered Musk to delete a tweet that ‘coercively threatened that employees would lose their stock options if they selected the Union as their representative.’
The May 2018 tweet read: ‘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? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.’
Another employee, Michael Sanchez, testified that he, Ortiz and another organizer were accosted by security guards outside the company’s Fremont facility while handing out leaflets promoting a union. They were repeatedly asked to show their badges and told to leave the premises.
Musk – worth a reported $242.3 billion – has also used his bully pulpit to protect his image, directing his die-hard fans to edit his ‘insane’ Wikipedia page to downplay his investments.
The NLRB ordered Musk to delete the above tweet because it was ‘coercive.’ The tweet remains up as Tesla and Musk appeal the agency’s decision
The NLRB subsequently ordered Tesla to stop any rule that ‘prohibits off-duty employees from distributing union literature in the employees’ parking lot,’ according to the decision.
Tesla appealed the ruling in April.
Musk has also been quick to shut down criticism that affects his image.
He’s reportedly asked journalists to sign NDAs before speaking to him or to let company view story drafts before publishing, CNBC reports.
After directing his followers to remove the word ‘investor’ from his Wikipedia page, the online article was re-edited to downplay his investments.
In 2018, he cut off an analyst who asked about the company’s capital requirements during an earnings call.
‘Excuse me, next, next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool,’ he said.
In November 2020, former Tesla solar field quality manager Stephen Henkes said he was fired for bringing up safety concerns.
In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County, Henkes said he was fired in August after he expressed worry about fire risks associated with the company’s solar panels.
Tesla Energy, a small part of the company’s overall focus, installs rooftop photovoltaics, ground-based and carport solar energy systems, CNBC reports.
Henkes filed a complaint with the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2019. The commission said it was still investigating the matter last year.
Also in 2018, Karl Hansen filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC alleging that he was wrongfully terminated for bringing up millions of dollars in thefts and potential drug trafficking at its Nevada gigafactory to his superiors.
He said about $37 million worth of copper wire and other raw materials were stolen from the plant in early 2018.
The former security guard said the electric car company launched an ‘internal investigation’ after a May 24 tip-off from the DEA that ‘significant amounts’ of cocaine and crystal meth were being exchanged by staff.
In 2018, former security guard Karl Hansen filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC alleging he was wrongfully terminating for bringing up millions of dollars in thefts of raw material, along with employee spying, at a Tesla facility in Nevada
Hansen made a series of other extraordinary claims in a public letter issued by his lawyers, including that Tesla failed to disclose the alleged theft of $37 million in copper and raw materials and spied on staff.
Hansen said Tesla acted on the DEA tip-off by commissioning its own internal review, but then failed to pass their findings on to the authorities.
He also says the company broke its promise to appoint external investigators to look into the matter.
He claimed Tesla installed ‘specialized router equipment within its Nevada Gigafactory designed to capture employee cell phone communications and/or […] cell phone data.’
The firm allegedly accessed another employee’s cellphone, even after the termination of his employment.
Musk slammed Hansen in private messages sent to Gizmodo. ‘This guy is super [nuts emoji],’ he said.
‘He is simultaneously saying that our security sucks (it’s not great, but I’m pretty sure we aren’t a branch of the Sinaloa cartel like he claims) and that we have amazing spying ability. Those can’t both be true.’
Tesla responded by saying Hansen failed to engage with them to discuss the information.
The SEC complaint remains dormant, according to Hansen’s law firm Meissner Associates.
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