As 2018 came to a close, anti-Tesla & anti-EV tweets filled my Twitter timeline –– not just from TSLAQ, but from trusted mainstream news sources too. It really made me sad to see every day. So many stories were false or misleading, and I had witnessed a coordinated effort to over-emphasize and cheer on the negativity that nobody was talking about. TSLAQ was winning, and there was no way my personal Twitter account could speak loud enough to match the absurdity of their massive coordinated campaign.
That’s what I was bummed about on November 30, 2018 when I thought of a dumb joke. I didn’t plan it out in advance, think much about it, or ever expect it to have much significance in my life. I really never thought anyone would notice or care –– I just did it because I thought it would be funny.
The prank was simple: TSLAQ’s social media playbook was their biggest strength and the key to their domination of the daily news cycle. Of course, Tesla did have a lot of real problems as they ramped Model 3, but the conversation had been significantly distorted by a community working hard to push an extremist bearish view on the company. Imagine how different the conversation would be if the same playbook was used to share all the good things that were happening at Tesla, I mused. TSLAQ loved to dress themselves up as heroes speaking truth to power, and harshly derided any attempts by Tesla to respond to their attacks as “silencing / threatening / harassing critics”. That self-aggrandizing characterization ignored the reality that most of what they were saying was completely untrue. I wondered: How would they feel if someone parodied their campaign to investigate them?
I started to laugh as I thought about it. TSLAQ loved smearing Tesla non-stop and trying to convince everyone the business was a fraud. But Tesla clearly wasn’t a fraud –– I loved my Model 3, and definitely hadn’t been “defrauded” by Tesla. From my perspective, the dishonest people defrauding the public to try and rip them off were actually members of TSLAQ. Think of all the people who lost money believing TSLAQ’s foolish, misleading, self-serving investment advice.
The short-sellers all agreed they had a moral right to trash Tesla and make their best case that the company was a fraud, even if questionable tactics were involved. By extrapolating that postulate out via the golden rule, TSLAQ clearly shouldn’t have a problem with a Twitter account that parodied their own campaign to claim that their business of short and distort was a fraud. Right? 😏 Laughing at my own joke, I registered a Twitter account dedicated to sharing the truth about Tesla. The handle I chose was @tesla_truth. I didn’t tell anyone, and I never thought anyone would notice or care.
Most TSLAQ accounts never shared their real names, because they knew there could be legal repercussions for short and distort campaigns. Instead, they used display names like “Elon”, names of other Tesla executives, or historical figures like “Marcus Aurelius”, and “Diogenes”. One TSLAQ leader known as “Montana Skeptic” set his profile photo to an image of Gallileo.
You could really set your Twitter name to anything you wanted, with no need for it to be related to your real identity at all. In fact, short-sellers trying to hide their identity were extra careful to make sure nothing on their profile offered any hints as to the identity of the owner at all. To parody the absurdity of trusting random pseudo-anonymous accounts for information on Tesla, I set the display name of the account to Steve Jobs. To take the absurdity of the parody account to a new level, I would write the tweets from the perspective of Steve Jobs tweeting from the afterlife about how much he loved his new Tesla.
The intent was never to deceive anyone into believing I actually was Steve Jobs, who had passed away over 7 years ago at that point. The idea was just to make fun of TSLAQ: Oh, you’re Marcus Aurelius, Galileo, and Diogenes? Well, I’m Steve Jobs! I didn’t particularly care about keeping my identity a secret, since I didn’t see the need to. If someone sent a DM asking who I was, I would tell them. At the same time, I didn’t see any need to post my real name anywhere on the Twitter profile or share my identity more widely than on a need-to-know basis. I’m fairly certain that nobody actually believed the account was actually operated by the ghost of Steve Jobs.
Journalism through Parody
Why Steve Jobs?
The original idea behind @tesla_truth was to draw focus back to the truth about what was happening at Tesla, in part by highlighting the absurdity of the TSLAQ and mainstream media narrative surrounding the company.
Now, you might wonder: Why a Steve Jobs parody account? If you wanted to highlight the absurdity of the mainstream Tesla narrative, couldn’t you have written under your real name, or posted a series of factual essays, or tried to speak to the media about what you saw? Maybe, but I doubt it would have made any difference. I wanted to spread the word about the disinformation campaign on Twitter, exactly where it was taking place. Strangely enough, social media was the most effective place to respond. You have to fight fire with fire, right?
There were other simpler reasons, too. Reading TSLAQ’s hateful tweets every single day truly made me sad, and I’m sure other Tesla customers and fans felt the same way. I wanted to do something funny and make everyone laugh at TSLAQ instead of letting them mess with our heads. That included counter-balancing TSLAQ’s psychological warfare campaign with tweets that made Elon Musk and other Tesla executives laugh and feel optimistic, and making sure to tag them. Plus, you have to remember that this is just something I decided to do in five minutes. Very little thought went into it –– it started as a perfunctory joke account but evolved into something much bigger than just a troll account over the course of its short life.
I’d also been inspired by the work of others. On October 2, 2018, the month before I started the @tesla_truth account, the grievance studies affair was exposed by an article in the Wall Street Journal. Before that incident, many people had questioned the credibility of research in academic journals –– but no critique ever had quite the punch of this famous prank by Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose.
The grievance studies affair, also referred to as the “Sokal Squared” scandal, was the project of a team of three authors—Peter Boghossian, James A. Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose—to highlight what they saw as poor scholarship and eroding criteria in several academic fields. Taking place over 2017 and 2018, their project entailed submitting bogus academic papers to academic journals in cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies to determine if they would pass through peer review and be accepted for publication. Several of these papers were subsequently published, which the authors cited in support of their contention.Wikipedia
Writing a factual essay about problems with academic journals is one thing. Proving your point by getting a parody essay actually published in an academic journal? That’s next level. You have, quite literally, proved your point.
The papers covered absurd topics with no evidence whatsoever. The authors just made up something they thought would sound good, and used language that parodied real academic papers well enough to actually be published.
Included among the articles that were published were arguments that dogs engage in rape culture and that men could reduce their transphobia by anally penetrating themselves with sex toys as well as Adolf Hitler‘s Mein Kampf rewritten in feminist language. The first of these had won special recognition from the journal that published it.Wikipedia
No essay could ever have brought more attention to this subject than those bogus parody academic papers. No essay could ever have made the point as effectively, or as convincingly. I laughed when I read about the incident because it proved its point in a way that was funny, using the reaction to the joke itself as supporting evidence. Subconsciously, I started to realize that comedy and parody could be powerful modern journalistic tools.
Other influences included Nathan Fielder and John Gruber. Nathan Fielder is a comedian who had a show called “Nathan for You” on Comedy Central at the time. Fielder was a pioneer in “reality comedy”. On the show, he was supposedly a recent business school graduate who got “really good grades” in school and would go around Los Angeles helping real small businesses grow with absurd promotional schemes. The twist was that Nathan was the only person on the show acting, but nobody else knew. In showcasing reactions to Mr. Fielder’s terrible “business ideas”, the show actually explored human nature in a powerful way only achievable by comedy.
My other major inspiration, John Gruber, ran a blog called Daring Fireball. John is an Apple fan and Mac user whose blog I used to read a lot growing up, and still do today. It’s not so easy to remember these days but for most of my life Apple was a major underdog, known as the computer company with tiny OS market share. As Apple grew, the company faced a barrage of criticism and attacks from short-sellers much as Tesla had –– just not as bad, since that was before the toxic influence of social media. It happened decades earlier, but many of the lines were the same: Just as TSLAQ falsely claimed Tesla would go bankrupt, their short-seller forefathers confidently claimed Apple’s days were numbered as well. (Anyone know if they’re still around?)
But John understood Apple and what made it special, and wrote brilliantly and eloquently about Apple news while debunking the myths, misunderstandings, and controversies that constantly surfaced as Apple grew into the giant we know today. I’m not trying to put myself in the same league as Gruber –– he’s a great writer, and I was a computer programmer attempting writing for the first time –– but I wanted to do for Tesla what Daring Fireball had done for Apple: Help people understand the company. Gruber’s coverage was often humorous and snarky (one regular feature “Jackass of the Week”, featured rebuttals to misinformed articles about Apple) and influenced my writing long before I started.
What Steve Jobs Tweeted About
So what did Steve Jobs tweet about? If you believe TSLAQ, @tesla_truth was the most horrible Twitter account ever created –– some TSLAQ leaders even called it “worse than Hitler”. Through the magic of the Internet Archive, we can look back at some @tesla_truth tweets to remind ourselves what kind of content the account was sharing. Here’s what the profile looked like:
Most of the account wasn’t about TSLAQ or any of their members at all. The main focus of the account was simply talking about Tesla news, and sharing real discussions about their products from real Tesla customers. As you can see in the screenshot above from the Internet Archive, the top tweet was about Tesla Autopilot. I just wanted to share some of the positive information that was out there about Tesla, to counteract all the negativity that was being amplified by TSLAQ.
The account featured daily analysis of what was going on with Tesla’s business:
And to make the analysis a little funnier and more absurd, I wrote the tweets from Steve Jobs’ perspective –– as if he had composed them from the afterlife. As an Apple fan, I knew enough details about his life and career to make the joke work:
Just as TSLAQ built up their short-selling community, @tesla_truth tried to bring together the Tesla owner community: people who owned Tesla products, Tesla stock, or were interested in purchasing either of the two in the future. If TSLAQ was going to assemble everyone who wanted to stop Tesla, we would have to mobilize everyone who wanted to see Tesla succeed.
This included promoting knowledgable content creators who really understood Tesla:
A frequent topic of conversation was Tesla Autopilot, and all the lives that could be saved by deploying autonomous software widely sooner rather than later:
Besides covering topics specific to Tesla, @tesla_truth also advocated for sustainable transport and renewable energy in general:
Although the account made fun of TSLAQ and misinformed articles in the mainstream media, the goal was always to engage respectfully and try to foster friendly discussion of the issues at hand:
Of course, besides trying to foster discussion and understanding between Tesla bulls and bears… sometimes it was also necessary to roast TSLAQ, and media outlets that echoed their viewpoint:
Beyond just making fun of TSLAQ, the @tesla_truth account also tried to raise awareness around short and distort campaigns and other sources of misleading info about Tesla and electric vehicles. For example, many people may not have realized Edmunds’ customers are car dealerships. Since Tesla’s online sales model is a threat to dealerships, context like this could be helpful in understanding negative posts about Tesla from Edmunds.
It wasn’t all just about Tesla either. The account also covered other tech companies including Apple:
TSLAQ Strikes Back
I made fun of a lot of TSLAQ accounts on @tesla_truth, rebutting their nonsense sarcastically with a high volume of tweets. I called it troll journalism: using parody and humor to highlight the sheer ridiculousness of the TSLAQ campaign. The short and distort effort depended on people taking TSLAQ seriously, so parody turned out to be a really powerful tool to dismantle their disinformation.
Some TSLAQ members were annoyed at being made fun of, but that was part of the joke: Their annoyance proved that despite attempts to declare themselves heroes, they did not like the taste of their own medicine. Hilariously, many TSLAQ accounts followed me thinking an account called @tesla_truth must be part of their short-selling campaign. They were horrified and repulsed to learn the account was actually tweeting positive information about the company. However, most of the reaction from TSLAQ was fairly tame and innocuous –– at least for a little while.
Just six weeks after the @tesla_truth account was created, one short-seller found the account and reacted like nothing else I’ve ever seen. He completely lost his shit, threatening me immediately from his first introductory message in a fit of characteristic uncontrollable rage.
When I started asking questions about him, I received anonymous warnings: “Be careful, this guy will ruin your life”. I was undeterred –– what’s the worst he could do about a tweet? The answer to that question was miles beyond my imagination. Now, here I am.
That short-seller was a 40-year-old balding man named Aaron Jacob Greenspan.
Aaron Greenspan has filed an illegal SLAPP-suit against Elon Musk and Omar Qazi for bringing attention to allegations of tax fraud, securities fraud, cyberstalking, and criminal harassment by the Think Computer Foundation (doing business as PlainSite). If you can please donate to the Legal GoFundMe or via PayPal to make sure Aaron Jacob Greenspan is finally held accountable for his harassment of so many Tesla customers.