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Linette Lopez sounds off on her Twitter suspension
"Once Elon took over, I was not optimistic. As usual, he is exceeding expectations for me."
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As absurd as it might have been, at least Twitter gave me a reason for my “permanent suspension.” Insider journalist Linette Lopez was left guessing for days.
Lopez has done hard-hitting investigations of Elon Musk’s companies for years. Last Friday, she was abruptly purged from Twitter. She says she had no clue what was going on until Tuesday, when Insider got involved in the situation. Only then was Lopez told a tweet she posted Friday morning featuring an image from a years-old court document with a Musk email address visible on it violated the terms of service. Her account was finally restored Tuesday night after she deleted the tweet.
“Insider didn’t really understand what was going on either. They figured Elon would just let me back on with all the other reporters, and when we realized that wasn’t going to happen it was a huge WTF,” Lopez told me Thursday morning.
Public Notice contributor Thor Benson talked to Lopez at length early Tuesday evening, when she still wasn’t sure if she’d ever get her account back. They spoke about the circumstances surrounding her suspension, her background with Elon, why desperate billionaires scouring the globe for money worry her, and much more.
A transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
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How have you been feeling about your Twitter ban?
I can’t say I’m that surprised. I did upload court documents that are publicly available. I think Elon was looking for a reason. We have a long history of not getting along. I always said I was going to leave Twitter when they turned out the lights and kicked everyone out or when I was kicked out myself, so here we are.
You’ve been covering him since 2018. What’s that been like?
I started investigating [Tesla] in 2018 when I got a tip from a line worker named Martin Tripp. Elon accused him of stealing trade secrets and all of this grandiose stuff and sued him. It turned into a whole debacle. I still had sources in the company even after Marty was found out, so I continued to report on it.
Around July of 2018, I reported that Elon himself had ordered Tesla to stop doing this test called the brake and roll test. That’s a test that tests the alignment on every car at different speeds, rotating the wheels. It’s very important in automotive. No one would ever not do that test in automotive. It’s unthinkable.
He told them to stop doing it because he wanted to get the cars to the finish line. It was all arbitrary and based on whatever Elon feels. You’ll notice a pattern. He wanted 5,000 cars at this arbitrary goal, and in order to get there, he was not ashamed of cutting corners that would be unthinkable to cut in regular automotive.
I published that story, and after that Elon went on this tirade where he accused me of taking money from a hedge fund manager named Jim Chanos. He was the hedge fund manager who called that Enron was going to implode. He made up this wild fantasy online that Jim was paying me and that, as a result, I was paying Marty and other sources in the company and that’s how I was getting information.
It couldn’t be that I was just doing my job. It had to be some conspiracy of Big Oil and Wall Street short sellers. It was nonsense. That’s how I know that he really doesn’t have a problem with doxxing or harassing people online.
It seems despite his flaws and bad behavior he was able to keep Tesla and SpaceX going, but he just doesn’t have the skill set or temperament to do this Twitter thing. What do you think?
That’s what I wrote my last column about, which is comparing the kinds of companies he has run in the past to Twitter. In the past, he’s run these companies with grand missions, where the people who work there feel like they’re part of that mission and there’s nowhere else they could work where they’re doing the kind of work they’re doing.
Twitter is a very different company. It is in a crowded field. It is broke. It is just one of many places where employees with this skill set can work. He can’t treat his employees the way he is accustomed to treating them. He can’t make these grandiose statements about saving the world. I just don’t think people believe that. You see his tweets, and he says things like, “It’s imperative for democracy that I run Twitter, and no one else can run Twitter.”
I’ve been covering Elon for a long time and used to talk to him here and there. I always saw these flaws in him, but I didn’t see him as a right-wing troll like he is now. What do you think of that?
I don’t know. He’s Silicon Valley red-pilled in a very “there should be no states” kind of way. You definitely also hear this type of thinking from Peter Thiel, and he’s known Peter Thiel for a very long time. At a certain point I think when very rich people aren’t getting their way all of the time, they think, “Well, I should just run everything.”
That’s kind of the attitude that you see from him. In the last couple of years, people have started to ask him harder questions and governments have started to question whether they should give him more money. I think he went to China and saw that the government moved very fast there because it doesn’t have to reach a consensus on anything. Sometimes businessmen who wish they could snap their fingers and get something done the way they want it admire these autocrats who seemingly can pull it off.
What are you expectations for Twitter and what its users should expect in the short-term?
I expect the functionality of the company to decline. It seems the employees are not happy, and I don’t know if Elon has the funds to hire people who have a lot of talent who can go work elsewhere in Silicon Valley. If Elon does step down, I sincerely doubt he will put a fully independent CEO in charge of Twitter since it seems so much of his pride is locked in.
If his remaining shareholders do manage to push him into doing that, which I don’t know how they would, even if there’s a new CEO, it will be just another appendage of Elon. If he continues to run Twitter, I don’t think he’s going to reverse course. I see him only putting more pressure on Tesla. I see Tesla shareholders being the people who can put the most pressure on him. Even then, the Tesla board is a joke. It has always been a joke. They’ve always confirmed insane pay packages for him and let him do whatever he wants.
I see Telsa’s stock continuing to fall as he has to sell, and if he keeps selling stock, the stock keeps going down. You can see that this is a slippery slope. Another thing is he pays a lot of his Tesla staff in Tesla shares, so as the value of the shares goes down, for the people who really have skin in the game, you’ve got to offer them more or issue more shares, which continues to devalue the shares.
I just don’t see this working well for Elon’s empire, and I hope that SpaceX is protected, but I don’t know.
It seems to me this isn’t just damaging to his reputation as some sort of eccentric genius, but that him continuing to sell Tesla stock and people seeing how he's managing Twitter could make basically everything fall apart
He’s almost bankrupted Tesla a couple of times. He has admitted that. One was when I was covering the company back in 2018, which is why he claimed that the company was going private for $420 a share, which it was not, but he needed to raise money. He was willing to do whatever he could to do that.
That kind of freaks me out, too, because he’s running around the world with his hand out. He’s a desperate billionaire who needs money for his social media company, and who are these investors? What needs do they have? That’s worrisome. You want somebody like that to be on a stable financial footing, because you don’t really know whose money they’ll accept. It’s scary, especially when this guy seems to be rolling around with Jared Kushner. All of those pictures from the World Cup were a little disturbing.
I’ve seen a lot of people openly mourning what feels like the death of Twitter. A lot of people have built community there and gotten career opportunities there. What do you think about people feeling this kind of loss?
I felt that loss, too. I can say I was a member of finance Twitter and journalism Twitter. It’s sad, but I don’t know how to comfort anyone except to say you can get a Post account. I have a Post account. It’s just my name. Come check me out. Once Elon took over, I was not optimistic. As usual, he is exceeding expectations for me.
That’s it for today
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