Tesla founder Elon Musk faces accusations that he used Twitter to obfuscate news that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating his company.
Last week, the billionaire tweeted a link to his 66 million followers promoting a “Cyberwhistle,” which is a conventional whistle modeled after Tesla’s forthcoming Cybertruck, an angular and futuristic vehicle. Along with the link, Musk tweeted: “Blow the whistle on Tesla!”
“Don’t waste your money on that silly Apple Cloth, buy our whistle instead!” Musk proclaimed, referencing Apple’s new $19 polishing cloth that was released to much fanfare, with many on back order.
Don’t waste your money on that silly Apple Cloth, buy our whistle instead!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2021
While many saw Musk’s tweets about the Cyberwhistle to be just another quirky offering from the world’s wealthiest person — his Boring Company has sold a flamethrower, and Telsa has offered surfboards — other users accused him of preempting news about the SEC whistleblower investigation by flooding search engines with stories about Tesla’s whistle to bury the whistleblower news.
Matthew Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, highlighted a Twitter thread showing screenshots from a Google search for “Tesla whistleblower” that included stories about the physical whistle above news about the SEC investigation.
Wow. Elon Musk is burying news of an upcoming SEC whistleblower investigation by selling whistles. He’s manipulating Google results. No one ever said he wasn’t creative. https://t.co/cLVTJpHTLo— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) December 6, 2021
The SEC investigation in question was reported by Reuters Monday morning. The whistleblower complaint by Steven Henkes, a former Tesla field quality manager, reportedly accused the company of failing to notify investors properly about problems with its solar panel systems associated with fire risks.
“We have confirmed with Division of Enforcement staff that the investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing,” the SEC said in a September response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Henkes.
Henkes claimed he was fired from the company for expressing concerns about the fire risks. He said in the whistleblower complaint that SolarCity, which is owned by Tesla, failed to disclose its “liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire etc to shareholders” before and after SolarCity was acquired in 2016.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.