Elon Musk’s new startup announcements are usually met with breathless anticipation and fawning admiration, particularly by the world media. He’s been dubbed Iron Man, and the media can’t stop talking about how he’s single-handedly changing the world with his rockets and electric cars. But the reaction from journalists after the announcement of his latest venture hasn’t been quite as effusive.
Yesterday, Musk had declared that he was looking to start a media credibility site, which will allow people to rate journalists and media houses. Musk said is venture would bring some accountability to the media, and help fight fake news. And while people on Twitter seemed to cheer — his tweet with the announcement has nearly 50,000 retweets — the reaction from the world media was hostile in the extreme.
“Elon Musk has a very bad idea for a website rating journalists,” screamed a TechCrunch headline hours after he’d published the tweet. “Unlike the Hyperloop, which was cool, and various space-related ideas, which we know he’s at least partly expert about, this one is just plain bad,” it said.
The Atlantic had a headline calling his Twitter announcements “silly”, and said his ideas on how to fix journalism were “ill-informed.”
And Vox straight up delcared that Musk didn’t know how journalism works in its headline.
If the response on established publications seemed reactionary, it was nothing compared to the vitriol Musk had to face on Twitter — he was hounded by journalists from publications across the world. Nate Silver, whose 538.com platform was spectacularly wrong in predicting the results of the US election just a year ago, attacked Musk saying he had “no f*cking idea” of what he was talking about.
This is the sort of spectacularly bad take you write when you have no fucking idea what you're talking about but want to sound like you do. https://t.co/8mcH6H3yeJ
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) May 23, 2018
An Indian journalist tweeted that “People are not products that need to be rated” with dramatic clapping emojis, not realizing that everyone regularly rates drivers on Uber, doctors on Practo and politicians during elections.
People 👏 are 👏 not 👏 products 👏that 👏 need 👏 to 👏 be 👏 rated. https://t.co/CqYZ2Dm8ha
— Meghnad (@Memeghnad) May 23, 2018
And it wasn’t long before Musk was literally being called a fascist, just for trying to build a product that would ensure some media accountability.
— Gemma Finnsdóttir (@Gemma_Finnegan) May 25, 2018
But a man that sends rockets into space wasn’t going to back down from some Twitter trolling. Musk began giving back as good as he got, telling a journalist “no one cared about what your article said” when she accused him of trying to personally review the articles she was publishing on SpaceX.
Wow, you’re ignorant. Don’t remember you, but disclosing classified US missile technology to hostile nations would violate ITAR law & land you in jail. I didn’t review it, but my team did. Obviously nobody cared about what your article said. Please.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 24, 2018
And he said that platforms like Twitter were now helping people bypass “journo bs”.
Definitely did not. I’ve been through many press cycles & know full well same person praising me today will trash me tomorrow. Journos hound me constantly for interviews, but I do almost none these days. ♥️ Twitter as it allows me to bypass journo bs.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 25, 2018
And this was probably the clincher. “I’ve just had it with sanctimonious journalists who appoint themselves protectors of the public interest & yet believe that same public is too stupid & immoral to assess their credibility,” tweeted Musk. “It’s amazing that you don’t understand how insufferably hypocritical that is. Wow.”
I’ve just had it with sanctimonious journalists who appoint themselves protectors of the public interest & yet believe that same public is too stupid & immoral to assess their credibility. It’s amazing that you don’t understand how insufferably hypocritical that is. Wow.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 25, 2018
Musk might’ve just hit the nail on the head. While his idea of a media rating site might need some ironing out — it would, as he’s himself said, need to be built in a way that makes it impervious to being gamed — the media’s reaction to its mere proposal would make one think it ought to be created. The media exists to serve the people, and if it’s so terrified of being judged by them, that sounds like all the more reason to get them to have some accountability over their actions.
And Musk has managed to prove that people are squarely in favour of his new idea. He created a Twitter poll asking people if his idea was any good, or if the media were awesome as they are. After a stunning 680,000 responses — for context, exit polls for the Karnataka elections had a sample size of 50,000 — a whole 88% of the voting public thought that Musk’s media credibility site was a good idea.
Create a media credibility rating site (that also flags propaganda botnets)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
Musk, for his part, has been gloating about the results. “Come on media, you can do it! Get more people to vote for you. You are literally the media,” he mock tweeted, when a sorry 12% of the respondents were in the media’s favour. But in spite of the hundreds of critical articles across the publishing world, and the backlash from journalists on Twitter, the public seems to have spoken. The vast majority of people seem to want a service that would hold the media accountable for its actions. And Musk might just be the man to do it — if he can send Teslas to space and dig under cities, he might just be the man to fix today’s broken media.