Elon Musk is at it again. The multi-billionaire Tesla and SpaceX chief has cleaved Twitter by suggesting that the mainstream media needs a fact-checker – and he wants to run it.
Musk’s ire was first drawn by reports last week that one of his company’s cars had crashed into the back of a fire truck at 60mph in Utah, while on “autopilot” mode. The wreck resulted only in a broken ankle for the driver. But it still alerted journalists, who questioned whether Tesla’s technology is ready for streets just yet.
Musk vented via Twitter to his 21m-plus followers, slamming the press for reporting Tesla’s crash while failing to mention the “~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year” (last year US road deaths rose 6% to 40,200).
Musk later advocated building a Website, “where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication.” His choice of name, Pravda, the Russian word for “truth”, was an odd one: Pravda was a primary source of Kremlin propaganda during the Soviet Era.
At this point, Musk had some people on board – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of fans who voted in heavy favor of his “media credibility rating site” (Snopes, and PolitiFact – a 2009 Pulitzer Prize recipient – may have something to say about that, thought Musk did make a subsequent donation to the latter).
Less understandable is Musk’s attack on a Reveal exposé about unreported injuries at Tesla factories, to which he tweeted: “Holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them.” Reveal is a nonprofit project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The media landscape is undoubtedly full of bias and bad reporting. But it is also a vital way to sidestep corporate power for truth – and Reveal‘s Tesla work is a perfect example. Fact-checking is never a bad thing. But as Silicon Valley increasingly stymies efforts to expose its inner workings, a billionaire-owned site called Pravda is likely to do little but erode trust in the press.
Musk’s anger is not unfounded. But he would do better to address criticism of Tesla as it stands, rather than a global conspiracy. Expect Twitter to continue burning bright on this. But little will be done beyond the shouting.