I more or less started my coverage of Tesla almost a decade ago responding to nonsense about Tesla that was being pushed by much bigger players in the media industry. Unfortunately, that work is still necessary today.
There was a very unfortunate Tesla crash this week that led to the death of two men. There are still some mysteries about what happened. However, some misinformation that got out there right away was identified almost immediately by many Tesla owners as illogical. Despite Tesla owners responding and trying to correct the record, I’m sure the vast majority of the people who heard about this story absorbed the wrong information. My wife saw a headline about it this evening on Facebook and immediately asked me, “Is this real?” Obviously, it’s my job to cover this stuff and I spent hours on this story this week, so I could quickly give her the gist of what happened and why the headline she saw was incorrect — but the vast majority of people who have this popping up in front of them on Facebook, Twitter, Google News, and
Digg reddit will never get the true story. They will see headlines like the one my wife saw, assume the information conveyed is true, and add that to the pile of misinformation they have in their head about the company and CEO Elon Musk.
Tesla Crash Misinformation — Act 1
We already pointed out that the idea the crash was caused by a reckless and psychotic Autopilot system made no sense. There are several reasons for this, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk backed up some of those explanations in a tweet a day after we wrote about the issue. He shared on Twitter that Tesla’s records showed Autopilot was not on before the crash and that you indeed cannot turn Autopilot on while on a street like the one the crash occurred on. (The crash seemed to have occurred right after the men left the home, so it seems impossible that Autopilot was on, and even if it had magically been on, it makes no sense that it would either drive off the road into a tree or do so at high speed.)
Tesla Crash Misinformation — Act 2
Now, as it turns out, part of the story that no one claimed was untrue (as far as I saw) has even been declared untrue by the Woodlands Fire Chief.
As you can see, Fire Chief Palmer Buck has now said: “Rumors grew way out of control. It did not take us 4 hours to put out the blaze. Our guys got there & put down the fire within 2-3 minutes … We did not (call Tesla), & I do not know where (that rumor) came from.” (Also, let’s just take a moment to note that Palmer Buck sure does sound like the name of a Texas fire department chief. This is not fake news from The Onion — it’s the real deal from the Houston Chronicle.)
So, to emphasize, despite innumerable claims to the contrary the past few days, there was no 4-hour fire, firefighters didn’t struggle for half the night to put the fire out, and it’s a mystery to the fire chief where the claims that they did even originated. The firefighters put out the fire in 2–3 minutes, he said. Also, the fire department did not call Tesla to get help putting the fire out, according to Fire Chief Buck. It’s very confusing that such information was in the original story when the head of the fire department (in a jurisdiction covering just 113,819 residents) can’t even figure out where the misinformation came from.
It’s true — some Tesla critics are going to say Fire Chief Buck is covering up the true story for some reason and this is one big conspiracy, but I’m more inclined to believe the fire chief on this topic than anyone else. I’m just curious now how that misinformation got into the original story. It’s legitimately confusing, and as someone who chases information for a living, it’s quite irritating to have such information gaps on such strange and influential matters. We probably won’t find out where the claims came from, though, so it’s time to move on.
The Tesla FUD Continues …
Another week, another enormous flow of misinformation about Tesla. Some people don’t like that many Tesla owners and fans so strongly push back on negative stories or claims about Tesla made in various media outlets and on social media. I’ll say that some of that certainly annoys me as well when it goes too far (and I’m an owner, a fan, and a modest shareholder). However, the humongous crowd of Tesla defenders have formed over more than a decade in response to disingenuous, misleading, harmful attacks on Tesla. This kind of misinformation is just irritating, or infuriating when it is so common, so widespread, and so influential. It has continued for so long and is so routine that there’s now a cultural group built up around the basic activity of correcting and pushing back on it. The first things that many people (dare I say most people) think about when they think about Tesla is misinformation that has spread far and wide repeatedly. There is Tesla the company and there is Tesla the false concept that many people have in their heads from absorbing far too many headlines and talking points that are based in nonsense rather than reality.
Given how much misinformation has built up over the years, I would say that misperceptions of Tesla are cemented in millions of people’s (or hundreds of millions of people’s) heads. As a result, there are countless Tesla fans who know better who are going to spend day after day trying to correct the record. The result is the often grating social media and discussion forum battles that make no one look good. Is there a better way? With continued misinformation like the misinformation out there this week, which has persuaded prominent politicians and societal influencers to call for vast bans on Tesla technology, it is hard to see a solution. What else are Tesla owners and fans to do when they see such ridiculous claims getting so much attention?