You could call it a lost weekend for Tesla CEO Elon Musk. During one of his many pit-stops on social media, the billionaire industrialist took offense at one of his online critics.
What happened next — including calling the man a pedophile — launched an embarrassing online episode for Musk.
By the time Monday rolled around, Tesla stock fell about 3% in the afternoon and Musk faced the risk of a lawsuit. With the Tesla Model 3 rollout as precarious as ever, Musk could scare away investors and legitimately put his company in jeopardy.
Ignoring advice to ‘never tweet’
While Musk has been active on social media for some time, he’s really been active online in 2018. You could argue he engages so often on Twitter and Reddit to draw attention away from Tesla Model 3 issues.
However, no one can argue that Musk ends up taking things too far. That criticism came often when Musk said he built a prototype for a submarine that would help rescue the group of children trapped in a cave in Thailand.
Vern Unsworth, a diver who’s assisted in the Thailand soccer team’s cave rescue, saw Musk’s brief involvement as nothing more than a publicity stunt — and told him so. On July 15, Tesla’s CEO got angry at Unsworth and referred to him as “pedo guy” (i.e., a pedophile).
Later, when Musk began hearing criticism for the baseless tweet, he replied “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.” Both tweets were deleted by Monday the 16th.
Stock dips, lawsuit threats, and the lesson from Papa John’s
During the same week Papa John’s Chairman John Schnatter resigned after making a racist comment, Musk was online making a fool of himself. Besides the jolt to Tesla stock, a round of stories asking whether Musk should be removed as CEO circulated.
The argument, made on the investor website The Street, was Musk should stay on because doing otherwise would hurt the stock price. (This conclusion will surprise no one who follows Wall Street.)
However, Musk also risked a lawsuit from the man he called a pedophile. Unsworth said he was weighing his options and added, “It’s not finished.” If he went through with the suit, it would be in the news for months.
Why can’t Musk log off?
The question many people are asking is why Musk feels the need to spend so much time on social media. Isn’t he the world’s busiest man who runs SpaceX and The Boring Company as well?
Most of us don’t have enough time working one job. So you have to at least consider the possibility Musk is performing for his audience. Given how many of his fans immediately rush to his defense, you could argue it’s worked so far.
However, the time has come for Tesla to produce quality cars in high volume. Calling strangers names online and launching Hail Mary PR stunts won’t change that.
As for investors, CNBC quoted Michael Bapis of The Hightower Group. “We’ve been bearish on the company for a while,” Bapis said. “They can’t meet production; they’re burning through cash.”
If you ask car consumers, they really only want one thing: a Model 3 that’s functional. These days, Musk isn’t making many people happy.