Free Speech Absolutist Elon Musk Demands Take Down Of (Likely Misleading) Videos Of Teslas Running Over Child-Sized Mannequins
from the running-over-kids dept
It appears that free speech absolutist Elon Musk is, once again, not such a fan of free speech when it criticizes him or his companies. Perhaps he’s too busy penning columns for China’s official internet censor to know this, but given other reports about how much he micromanages things happening at Tesla, you have to assume he’s well aware that Tesla’s lawyers are busy sending cease-and-desist letters to a group called The Dawn Project, which produced a (likely sketchy — read ahead) commercial attacking Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) claims. You can see the commercial here:
Electrek has noted, pretty convincingly, that the footage in the ad is, at best, misleading. And possibly directly deceptive. In some of the footage it appears that FSD wasn’t properly engaged, and in follow-up footage where it is shown to be engaged the end result is not identical to the parts shown in the video. In other words, the video is questionable, at best.
And, the guy behind The Dawn Project is not reacting particularly well to questions being raised about the tests he ran. He calls the reporter from Electrek, Fred Lambert, “a moron” and refuses to answer his questions. It’s not a good look.
That said, even as it looks like FSD was not engaged in at least some of the tests, it seems notable that the driver seems to think it’s engaged, which seems like a health hazard in its own way.
Incredibly, as the Washington Post notes, this ad resulted in one of Musk’s biggest stans literally trying to recreate the “test” in the ad… with real kids.
To be fair, that dude did run the experiment (with both child mannequins and real humans) and the FSD did not run over anyone (phew) … but also the video of him testing it out has been removed from YouTube for violating community guidelines.
I saw the video before it was removed from YouTube, and I’m guessing the concern was… that it might encourage others to test FSD running over kids? I dunno. I think the video was fine and probably should have been left online. (Update: YouTube says it was taken down because “YouTube doesn’t allow content showing a minor participating in dangerous activities or encouraging minors to do dangerous activities.”)
All that said, having your lawyers send an angry cease-and-desist doesn’t seem very free speechy. The takedown demands that The Dawn Project remove the video, issue a public retraction, “disclose all sources of funding for the purported ‘tests’,” and “disclose all recognized regulatory agencies that endorsed your testing methodology and/or results.”
And if it’s true that the commercial is misleading, you can certainly understand why Tesla and Musk would be ticked off about the videos. But a true “free speech absolutist” would counter the videos with more speech debunking them, and not with legal threats demanding not just silence, but detailed information on funding.
Honestly, this is a case where no one comes out of this looking very good (well, Elektrek’s reporting looks good).
But, the underlying issue is here: if full self-driving is going to actually be safe and productive (which would be great, and which I’d still like to come to pass), then Tesla needs to be upfront about it and open to discussing its potential flaws and responding to critics. And, even when that criticism may be exaggerated or problematic, just the fact that Telsa immediately resorts to the legal threats is somewhat chilling even for those who might make a more competent study of the issue. As we’ve documented in the past, Musk has a bit of a history of shutting down more trustworthy critics as well.
And, indeed, in an even more recent Elektrek article by Lambert, it’s noted that Musk is directly telling FSD beta testers to stop complaining about problems with FSD.
That’s also not at all free speech supporting, and is kind of worrisome. We should want beta testers to be critical. That’s how the technology gets better and it’s how we all are more likely to get a safer system out of all of this. And, telling the testers to shut up isn’t helping anyone.