Flop of the Month: Elon Musk's reputation sinks to new depths with 'pedo guy' tweet

Tech billionaire Elon Musk has hardly shied away from controversy in his lively career.

Image via @ElonMusk on Twitter
Image via @ElonMusk on Twitter

From calling an analyst’s question "bonehead" to attacking major media organisations for peddling untruths, the Tesla CEO is rarely out of the news for long.

But his personal stock arguably hit rock bottom in July when he referred to one of the British divers - instrumental in rescuing 12 schoolboys from a cave in Thailand - as a 'pedo guy' during a Twitter spat.

The baseless insult came after diver Vern Unsworth labelled as a "PR stunt" Musk’s offer to provide a "mini-sub" to rescue the children.

Cue a slew of bad headlines, with Musk portrayed as an ignorant bully, prone to erratic and angry outbursts. Asked later if he would consider legal action against Musk, Unsworth told reporters: "Yes, it's not finished."

The incident clearly did nothing to endear Musk to the investor community. The tweet wiped $2billion from Tesla’s stock value in a day, although it recovered within 48 hours.

Musk later apologised, adding that "[Unsworth's] actions against me do not justify my actions against him".

As Charles Tattershall has argued in PRWeek, personal brand is everything to a ‘rockstar CEO’ in Musk’s mould. The submarine proposal and other grand gestures such as offering to fix Flint’s water crisis may give him a ‘shield of invincibility’, which could at least distract from missed earnings targets.

But, if he does take the action man approach, Musk should learn how to do so in a way that suggests he is genuinely committed to the issues and not addicted to publicity stunts. He also needs to learn how to handle criticism in a measured way.

Perhaps taking some deep breaths before tweeting would be a start.

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