Pravda is Elon Musk’s worst idea ever
He’s an entrepreneur, a genius, a doer and, at times a man with incredibly thin skin.
Elon Musk showed his worst, most petulant self on Wednesday when he tweeted:
“Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda …”
While the name, which is Russian for “Truth,” indicated a bit of a wink, I get the feeling the Tesla CEO is quite serious and angry.
This has not been Elon Musk’s quarter. He’s still trying to fix Model 3 robotic production issues and get deliveries on track (he’s making progress, BTW), he went after analysts on an earnings call following a month of stock price declines, there was yet another reported Tesla crash, and a recent report in Reveal claimed numerous safety issues at his Freemont, California, Tesla production plant.
Among the charges was that there’s a lack of yellow warning paint because “Musk hates yellow,” (yes, I agree, that sounds ridiculous) and that the forklifts don’t beep as they should when backing up. In a series of tweets, the beleaguered Musk called “bs” on the report.
“Tesla factory literally has miles of painted yellow lines & tape. Report about forklifts not beeping is also bs. These are both demonstrably false, but were reported as “facts” by Reveal.”
Musk also made it clear that while he has no problem with Tesla plant workers unionizing, he wouldn’t recommend it.
“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”
Musk calmed down a bit, though it was clear from his tweets that he was not happy.
Then, according to Electrek, a Baird auto market analyst wrote to clients that negative headlines surrounding Tesla could prove “immaterial” and that shares could rise. Basically, he was putting a “buy” recommendation on Tesla stock, a fact that should have cheered Musk, but only seemed to make him angrier:
“The 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.”
And with that Musk was off on a “The Media” tirade that culminated in his “Pravda” idea.
Musk even defended this “Yelp” for journalists by claiming that this is how journalists, editors and publishers will define themselves. As I tried to explain to him on Twitter, third-party ratings systems that try to define and increase credibility have fallen out of favor. Klout couldn't survive, no one cares about Foursquare’s reward system anymore (I’m the major of “The Media!”) and journalists will not care about a Pravda credibility score.
If anything, such a site would cause endless anxiety and trouble for reporters trying to tell difficult stories. The truth often hurts. Angry readers or those who think they’ve been maligned by a factual-but-less-than-favorable review or piece of investigative journalism will take to Pravda and try to destroy the reporter’s credibility, but with Pravda’s carefully crafted ratings system behind them. It’ll be much more effective than trolling on Twitter and far more damaging to journalism in general.
While aware of the inherent danger of such a system (gaming, bots, etc.), Musk brushes it off with simplistic solutions.
Most appalling is that Musk lumps together real media with “propaganda botnets.” In Musk’s eyes, most journalists are no different than the fake news armies in Russia.
I like Elon Musk. He doesn’t just cook up with brilliant and sometimes oddball ideas, he executes on them. He is a craftsman with exquisite attention to detail and I credit him with pushing an entire industry to adopt all-electric technology. Musk’s fingerprints will be visible on the 21st Century's transportation landscape long after we’re gone.
But he is wrong about the media.
Elon Musk has given many interviews to members of the media over the years (including one to this journalist), and he knows that it’s not one oligarchic entity. If he truly believed it was just The Media, then why not invite one journalist to his product launches to represent this vast entity? Instead of dozens of reporters feeding the news of a new all-electric semi and stunning new Roadster to millions or eager fans, there’d be one hard working journalist delivering the news to 10,000 readers.
When you’re angry, it’s easier to boil down disparate gripes into one focal point, so you can target your anger more effectively and cook up ill-informed solutions like Pravda.
I get it, Elon, I’m angry about fake news, too. I don’t know if Reveal got the story wrong, though responding to their request for comment with an accusation that the news organization has a hidden agenda wasn’t likely to help set the record straight. Should Reveal have printed your whole statement? Yes, but the link was there for people to follow and read.
Pravda is an angry, bad idea, and not the answer. My suggestion? Invite reporters into your factory. Get a live crew from Today. Give them the tour, answer their questions and, please, don’t call them “The Media.”