Why truth, trust and transparency really do matter

by Lee Hopkins on March 5, 2009

in ethics,legal,marketing,pr

Lee Hopkins' social media ethos: the Three Ts and an A formula - Trust, Trust, Transparency and Accountability.

The three Ts in the ‘Three Ts and an A’ description I have for the ethos behind social media have come back to haunt one high-profile US executive.

Spectacularly so.

Courtesy of a Jeremiah Owyang tweet comes an article from Valleywag on a digital witch hunt at one US car maker that went horrifically wrong. Tee hee.

Enraged by leaks at his troubled Silicon Valley electric carmaker, CEO Elon Musk cooked up a sophisticated electronic scheme to catch the blabbers. It backfired hilariously on the brilliant entrepreneur, who’s a bit blabby himself.

Life for the employees at Tesla Motors has got more depressing over the last few months. Elon Musk is now spying on everyone.

The article then goes on to quote from a ‘trusted source’:

The inquisition began after an engineer named Peng Zhou revealed the company’s perilously low $9 million cash balance to Valleywag last October. Musk ordered a heavy-handed investigation. He hired an outside IT contractor go through the company’s email and instant messages, and then had an investigator take fingerprints off a printout discarded near a copier used to leak the email. The investigation implicated Zhou. Musk ordered Zhou to confess and apologize to the entire company, and then fired him.

In his latest witch hunt, which our tipster says took place recently, Musk set out to entrap potential leakers by sending each employee a slightly altered version of an email which he expected would get sent to the media. Musk began the memo, "I’m a big believer in trusting employees."

By altering phrases scattered throughout the email — changing "I’m" to "I am," for example — a Tesla IT employee created individualized memos which would have a detectable "fingerprint" in the text. In the memo, Musk asked everyone to sign a new, stricter nondisclosure agreement. The agreement wasn’t the point of the email — it was just a ruse to catch the company’s leakers.


For the record: Tesla is not "doing really well right now." It is losing money on every car it sells, and plans to take deposits from customers for cars which it has no means to build.

Absolutely riveting reading (apologies for the metal fabrication pun) and a damn good laugh. Well, he always wanted to be a poster boy — now he is.

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