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Elon Musk says he sees Twitter as a 'meme war land' — and it could create a big problem for Tesla (TSLA)

Mark Matousek
elon musk

Joe Skipper / Reuters


  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk is more active, and candid, on Twitter than the average Fortune 500 CEO.
  • But he's become increasingly combative on the platform, responding to criticism in a tone that has alarmed some investors.
  • While Musk has said he would try to use more restraint on Twitter, he accused one of the divers involved in the Thailand cave rescue of being a pedophile on Sunday and said he would bet money to back his accusation. He later deleted the tweets and apologized. 
  • Musk may not change his ways until they have a significant negative impact on Tesla, Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, told Business Insider. 


Tesla has a problem that has nothing to do with production rates, market share, or balance sheets: its CEO, Elon Musk, can't stop tweeting.

Musk is far more active, and candid, on Twitter than the average Fortune 500 CEO. In some ways, Musk's engagement is savvy. He will respond directly to customers, provide updates about Tesla's products, and make jokes that humanize him in a way that is rare for an executive at a multibillion-dollar company. 

But Musk has also become increasingly combative on the platform, responding to criticism in a tone that has alarmed some investors, said Gene Munster, a managing partner at the venture capital firm Loup Ventures, including those who, like him, are optimistic about Tesla's future.

"I've directly talked with investors who are believers in the story, but now are talking about his behavior and feeling uncomfortable about that," he said.

Musk has become more combative on Twitter

elon musk pedo guy british diver

Elon Musk/Twitter

Musk has lashed out at people who write or report information that reflects Tesla in a negative light, including reporters from Reveal, The Information, and Business Insider, among other publications.

He has also had a contentious relationship with Wall Street analysts. In April, Tesla's stock fell 5.16% after Musk mocked analysts who were worried about the company's financial health.

In an interview published on Friday, Musk told Bloomberg he had believed he could "attack" people who addressed negative tweets toward him, so long as they attacked him first, but said he would attempt to limit his interactions with critical tweets.

"Generally the view that I've had on Twitter is if you're on Twitter, you're in like the meme—you're in meme war land. If you're on Twitter, you're in the arena. And so essentially if you attack me, it is therefore OK for me to attack back," he said.

"If somebody attacks you on Twitter, should you say nothing? Probably the answer in some cases is yes, I should say nothing. In fact, most of the time I do say nothing. I should probably say nothing more often."

But two days after the interview was published, Musk accused one of the divers involved in the Thailand cave rescue of being a pedophile and said he would bet money to back his accusation. The diver, Vernon Unsworth, had said the miniature submarine Musk designed and sent to Thailand to help with the rescue would have been ineffective and was merely a publicity stunt.

Musk said Unsworth was incorrect, and that he would prove the submarine would have worked as intended.

"Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it," Musk said in a tweet he later deleted.

"Bet ya a signed dollar it's true," he later said about the accusation.

Musk later deleted the tweets and on Wednesday gave an apology on Twitter

Any news may be good news for Musk

Elon_Musk_on_Twitter___Bet_ya_a_signed_dollar_it’s_true…__

Elon Musk/Twitter

Tesla's stock fell 3.5% on Monday morning, and Jamie Anderson, a partner and portfolio manager at the asset-management firm and Tesla investor Baillie Gifford, told Reuters Musk's tweets were "a regrettable instance." 

Anderson had previously expressed concern about Musk's conduct on Twitter to Bloomberg.

"We are very supportive, but we would like peace and execution at this stage," he said. "It would be good to just concentrate on the core task."

According to Eric Schiffer, a public relations consultant and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, Musk's temperamental style on Twitter may be a deliberate strategy, designed to keep him and Tesla in the news. While controversy around his Twitter use may have negative effects in the short run, it creates a larger audience for when Musk promotes Tesla's products.

In each of the annual reports Tesla has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission since it went public in 2010, the company has credited the media as a significant driver of sales, so Musk may subscribe to the idea that any news is good news. According to Schiffer, Musk won't change his ways until they have a significant negative impact on Tesla.

"This won't end until he sees it negatively cripple his stock price or future funding requirements in a meaningful way," he said. "Otherwise, you're going to continue to see this, because it's been, in his mind, effective."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

If you've worked for Tesla and have a story to share, you can contact this reporter at mmatousek@businessinsider.com.

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