When Elon Musk shook the internet—with fear or excitement, who’s to say?—after he announced he might be interested in launching his own social media platform, Donald Trump-style, many of us knew more developments were bound to result from it. Less than three days after his viral tweet, we’re already faced with said developments.
A former Tesla employee, who was fired earlier in March after he posted a video that was critical of the company’s autopilot, has pointed out that Musk “is a free speech absolutist… unless it involves safety concerns.”
Meanwhile, it’s also been revealed that Musk was known to engage in “yelling matches” with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) while on calls about safety concerns surrounding Tesla’s autopilot feature.
But before we get into the details of the billionaire’s hypocritical and downright dangerous approach to what should be accepted as free speech and what shouldn’t, it’s important we highlight everything you need to know about why he might want to launch a new social network in the first place.
After being banned from Twitter on 8 January 2021, Trump announced that he would roll out his very own social media platform called TRUTH Social to “give a voice to all.” Needless to say, as of today, the app is failing completely, with Trump himself not posting on it since its launch in February. Then, more recently—on Saturday 26 March 2022, to be exact—Elon Musk revealed on Twitter that he was giving “serious thought” to building a new social media platform.
Though the Tesla CEO and ‘serious tweeter’ did not share any specifics on what the hypothetical app would look like or how it would work, it was clear what had pushed him to make such statements. Only one day prior, Musk tweeted: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”
In another tweet posted on that same day, the SpaceX owner went on to say that “free speech is essential to a functioning democracy” and questioned whether Twitter “rigorously adheres to this principle.” Long story short, he was upset that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had subpoenaed him back in November after he asked his Twitter followers if he should sell 10 per cent of his Tesla stock—causing shares to fall.
In the cases of both Trump and Musk, their logic seems pretty obvious: by building their own social network, they get to create the content moderation rules they often fall foul of on Twitter or Facebook. The exact same idea led to platforms like Rumble, Parler, Thinkspot and Gettr to launch in an effort to tempt people away from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.
Yet, for some men who are said to have a great sense of business, little attention seems to be paid to the fact that the platforms mentioned just above have all crashed and burned miserably—and for good reason.
Former auto-safety officials at the NHTSA told The Washington Post that Musk screamed and threatened to sue when the agency told Tesla it was launching an investigation into the carmaker’s products in 2016. Since then, the NHTSA has launched dozens of investigations into Tesla crashes.
Multiple former safety officials at the agency told The Post that the regulator has done anything from flattering to threatening Tesla and Musk in order to get the manufacturer to comply with recalls.
Meanwhile, former Tesla employee John Bernal was fired earlier in March 2022 after he posted a video to his YouTube channel, AI Addict, that was critical of the company’s full self-driving (FSD) software.
In the video, Bernal demonstrated that Tesla’s beta FSD software had serious issues, including randomly disengaging while it was driving—forcing him to scramble in order to take back control of the vehicle. In a later update, the former Tesla employee said he “was fired from Tesla in February with my YouTube being cited as the reason why.”
As Business Insider first reported, Bernal is not the first nor the last person to be a victim of Musk’s views on what is considered ‘valuable’ free speech and what isn’t. “In one instance, Fast Company reported that Musk found the identity of a would-be anonymous blogger who posted a negative stock analysis of Tesla and contacted their employer, threatening to sue, according to the blogger,” wrote the publication.
“In another incident, a journalist who had been critical of the Tesla Model X launch event was called by Musk personally and had their order for a Model X cancelled,” Business Insider continued. Yet Musk has continued to deny allegations of rage-firing employees and instead likes to insist that he is “a free speech absolutist.”
All that considered, it’s also crucial for us to remind ourselves that as much as Musk likes to proclaim that he or his companies are working on exciting products, quite often, proposed innovations aren’t released on time, if ever. At a Tesla ‘Autonomy Day’ event in April 2019, Musk said the company would have 1 million autonomous ‘robotaxis’ on the road in 2020. These still don’t exist.
In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed his grand scheme of establishing a human settlement on Mars by the 2060s. “This is not about everyone moving to Mars, this is about becoming multiplanetary,” he said at the International Astronautical Congress held in Mexico at the time—adding how the colonisation could essentially “minimise existential risk” while having a “tremendous sense of adventure.”
Fast forwarding to January 2020, the ‘Technoking of Tesla’ updated his targets to put one million people on the red planet by 2050. Over the past few years, however, one of Musk’s biggest concerns is what his Mars mission aims to tackle: existential risk. In this case, premature existential risk triggered by population collapse. Simply put, what if there won’t be one million people available to inhabit Mars in the first place?
“Population collapse is a much bigger problem than people realise and that’s just for Earth,” the space billionaire tweeted last year—highlighting how Mars requires a great number of people to make colonisation possible since the population of the planet is obviously zero. “Humans are the custodians of other life on Earth. Let us bring life to Mars!” he urged.
Shortly after, Musk acknowledged how global fertility rates (the average number of children that would be born to a woman in her lifetime) are decreasing. To put it in his words: “Due to lack of banging, civilization might ended with a whimper! Adult diaper sales growth is much higher than baby diaper sales growth.”
Inching towards late 2021, among the climate of the disastrous overturn of Roe v. Wade in Texas, the Technoking failed to read the room again by stating “I think one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birthrate and the rapidly declining birthrate. And yet, so many people—including smart people—think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control.” At the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council summit, he also added: “Please look at the numbers, if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble. Mark my words.”
So, is ‘women having more babies’ truly the ultimate solution for the concerns raised by Musk? “One thing it’s really important to realise is that population is actually irrelevant to solving the climate crisis,” sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas said in an interview with Vox. “And the reason for that is that we only have the next few years to solve the climate crisis reasonably well.” That being said, however, climate anxieties are definitely influencing people’s decisions of having children in the era of climate change. And have been for decades.
In 2019, the United Nations (UN) projected that the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years—from 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050. According to the organisation’s World Population Prospects, the global population could skyrocket close to the end of the current century, at a level of nearly 11 billion. The UN also added how growth rates vary greatly across regions despite the world’s population continuing to increase.
“The new population projections indicate that nine countries will make up more than half the projected growth of the global population between now and 2050: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States of America (in descending order of the expected increase),” the report read. “Around 2027, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country.”
In the latest series of tweets, however, Musk claimed that “UN projections are utter nonsense.” As proof, he urged his followers to multiply last year’s births by life expectancy. “Given [the] downward trend in birth rate, that is best case unless reversed,” he added. The thread also continued with him stating “If there aren’t enough people for Earth, then there definitely won’t be enough for Mars 😕”
Father of seven, Musk isn’t exactly a hypocrite—we’ll give him that. In fact, the space billionaire believes he’s “trying to set a good example” in saving Earth from its population doom caused by the “lack of banging.” Nevertheless, Musk believes his dream of building Muskville and humanity eventually becoming multiplanetary seems to be drifting out of reach. Until then, the Technoking advises to bang or be ready for Earth to end with a bang. Sorry, “whimper.”