Elon Musk wears a handkerchief around his neck, holding up a finger

Elon Musk Sure Does Hate Free Speech When It’s Coming From His Own Employees, Doesn’t He?

Elon Musk has repeatedly claimed that the driving reason behind his purchase of Twitter was to protect “free speech.” If you take his words at face value (which you shouldn’t), one would think that freedom of speech was the most important thing in the world to him. But if that were the case, you’d imagine that defense of speech would extend to people at his own companies, even when they’re expressing negative opinions of him, which it very clearly does not.

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According to the New York Times, a number of SpaceX employees who helped write and circulate an open letter asking Musk to stop being so embarrassing online have been fired.

“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” reads the letter. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”

I think that most reasonable people would agree that Musk’s tweets—be they stolen memes, poop emojis in response to business discussions, or jokes about accusations of sexual harassment—are distracting and embarrassing. But even if Musk disagrees, those are those employees’ opinions, and everything he has said about defending speech indicates Musk should at least agree with their ability to express themselves.

Instead, those employees were fired. Three sources told the Times the firing was because of the letter, and that was confirmed by SpaceX’s president and COO, Gwynne Shotwell. In an email obtained by the newspaper, Shotwell said: “The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” adding, “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”

“Please stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time to do your best work,” the email continued. “This is how we will get to Mars.”

There’s no clarification on why employee’s expression of their opinions is considered “activism” while Musk publicly advocating for free speech or sharing his political beliefs online isn’t, but this is hardly the first time his love of free speech hasn’t extended to speech that is critical of him personally or that threatens his economic interests. And hey, I guess even extreme hypocrisy needs to be defended by the “overreaching activism” of sometimes-free speech warriors like Musk.

(image: Patrick Pleul – Pool/Getty Images)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.