“It Sure Looks Like Elon Musk Just Deleted Tesla And SpaceX’s Facebook Pages”
Moments after joking “what’s Facebook?” on Twitter, Elon Musk deleted the Facebook pages for two of his companies, Tesla and SpaceX.
In her March 23rd BuzzFeed News article, Caroline O’Donovan discusses one element of the aftermath of Facebook’s latest data scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica and user privacy. After the scandal broke, a “#DeleteFacebook” movement gained traction online—once which Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk quite literally seems to have joined. After posting a joking tweet reading “what’s Facebook?” at Brian Acton, who cofounded the communication app WhatsApp before selling it to Facebook in 2014 and who also supported the #DeleteFacebook movement, Musk’s followers responded to his online banter with challenges to delete his own company’s pages from the Facebook website. O’Donovan reports that Musk was not even initially aware that Tesla and SpaceX had Facebook pages at all. However, Musk did not disappoint his followers nor stray from his word, and actually deleted the Facebook pages for these two companies. The pages, upon entering a URL, return an error message. While O’Donovan makes sure to note that Musk is still active on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, she also highlights Musk’s 20.5 million Twitter followers—20.5 million people who were privy to this online exchange. O’Donovan describes Musk as “something of a cult figure with a vast and loyal following online,” and she addresses that as such a figure, the decision to delete the Facebook pages for his companies could inspire change amongst his fans. To have such a powerful figure as Musk make such a public action, and statement, against Facebook could have dire consequences for the website, as this scandal is its largest to date, and one for which it needs all the users it can get if it hopes to survive.
Musk’s action, though accepted as a challenge from Twitter users, was a highly effective way of publicizing his stance on the Facebook scandal, and made it abundantly clear that he does not support the company’s operations. This story is important in a discussion not only of this scandal, but in today’s larger technology and media sectors as well. Musk’s action was an example of the fact that a leading figure within this industry does have the power to take a public stance and the potential to influence public opinion and action as a result. As we talked about in class, it is very possible that despite everyone talking about how what Facebook did is wrong, nobody will actually do anything about it—our lives are too intertwined with the website, and to remove ourselves from the platform would be too much of a hindrance; so, we do nothing. Musk’s actions, however, operate as a message to the world that we don’t need Facebook, and that despite the ways it seems so inextricable from our online, social media lives, it is possible to simply…delete.
Musk’s decision to speak out and take action reflects another aspect of today’s tech world that I’ve discussed at length in previous news posts: corporate responsibility. Similar to the ways that Toyota took action after the Uber driverless car accident when other companies did not remove cars from the road or stop production, or the way that GrubHub created a website to help draw attention to women-run restaurants, Musk, in this case, is an example of how powerful figures within the technology industry can get involved and can take action in their own ways, and can actually stand out above the noise of all the talk. At a time when there is so much chaos surrounding social media and technology, and people are voicing a lot of anger but not necessarily behaving in ways that reflect the opinions that they voice, it is refreshing and encouraging to see someone take action. While in the scheme of Facebook, the deletion of two pages is trivial, but the statement Musk made by doing so is just the opposite.