Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk turned to Twitter on Sunday to open up old wounds with one of Tesla’s co-founders before announcing he had “deleted” his Twitter account.
Musk ripped into Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard, stating that “Tesla is alive in spite of Eberhard, but he seeks credit constantly and fools give it [to] him.” The tweet was later deleted. Musk, meanwhile, briefly changed his Twitter name to Daddy Dotcom, said he had deleted his Twitter account, and swapped out his Twitter photo for a solid black disc.
The account was still up and running on Monday, although he hadn’t tweeted anything new beyond the Sunday night “Just deleted my Twitter account” message.
The bizarre chain of events started with a Twitter discussion on whether artists should be credited for work posted on Twitter. “No one should be credited with anything,” Musk tweeted. That drew a response from someone named Mawk: “Martin Eberhard is responsible for all of Tesla’s success.” Musk shot back.
Tesla had no comment. Eberhard, now chairman and chief technology officer of electric vehicle battery start-up Tiveni, could not be reached.
Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning started Tesla together in 2003. They soon brought Musk in as an investor. Musk, a co-founder of PayPal, got rich after PayPal was sold to EBay in 2002, and he initially sank $6.5 million into Tesla.
The details of the ensuing feud between Eberhard and Musk are subject to debate. But Musk gradually took control of the company and Eberhard was fired in 2007. Musk became Tesla’s chief executive in 2008.
Eberhard later sued Musk for libel and slander, in part for minimizing Eberhard’s contributions and claiming to be a co-founder of Tesla. The suit was settled for undisclosed terms, but Eberhard did agree that Musk and two others should be considered co-founders.
Musk’s Twitter account has proved an invaluable marketing tool for Tesla. But his tweets have also cost him.
In one case, Musk was charged with fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and later with contempt of court. In another, Musk was sued by a cave-dive rescuer after Musk called the man a “pedo” and “child rapist” on Twitter.
In the SEC case, the government agency filed fraud charges after Musk tweeted in August that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 a share. The tweet propelled the stock price higher, but it later fell after Musk failed to provide any evidence such a deal was in the works.
Musk settled the SEC charges with a promise to restrain his Twitter behavior. Months later, the SEC charged him with contempt of court for violating that promise. Musk settled that charge earlier this year, with a longer, more clearly defined list of subjects that he was not allowed to tweet about without first getting clearance from a company lawyer.
The CEO since has curtailed tweeting information that could be considered material to Tesla’s financial prospects, although his emails to employees that contain such information have since been leaked to the media.
Musk also faces a defamation lawsuit from the rescue diver, Vernon Unsworth, who helped lead the summer 2018 rescue of 12 Thai children and their soccer coach who were trapped in a cave after floodwaters blocked the exit. Musk and his team came up with a mini-submarine to help with the rescue, but after Unsworth minimized Musk’s contributions, Musk hit back on Twitter.
Last week, Unworth was honored for heroism at Buckingham Palace with several others from the British rescue team. Unsworth received the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal. Unsworth’s lawsuit goes to court in December.