Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, speaks with CNBC on May 16th, 2023.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Twitter suspended the accounts of Plainsite and its founder Aaron Greenspan, a prolific Tesla and Elon Musk critic, on Tuesday afternoon.
Plainsite is an online database that makes state and federal court filings and other public records available to users for free. The site also offers analytics features to paying subscribers, meant to help lawyers and pro-se litigants gain insights about attorneys, judges, government offices and the law.
Greenspan has meticulously tracked litigation by or against companies mostly in the U.S., including Tesla, Twitter (which Musk took private in an acquisition last year), as well as competitors GM, Meta and a myriad of others. He and Musk have also been involved in litigation over the years.
At the time Plainsite’s account was suspended, it boasted more than 24,000 listed followers on Twitter. Greenspan’s personal account had around 2,500 followers.
The suspension stands at odds with public statements from Twitter’s executive chairman and CTO Elon Musk, and newly-appointed CEO Linda Yaccarino. Yaccarino was previously global advertising chief at NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
In April 2022, after Musk announced his intention to acquire Twitter, he wrote in a tweet, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
More recently, Yaccarino wrote in a company-wide memo that a healthy civilization needs an “unfiltered exchange of information and open dialogue about the things that matter most to us.” She also said in the memo, “You should have the freedom to speak your mind. We all should.”
Greenspan told CNBC on Thursday that he has not yet received information from Twitter saying why the company suspended his accounts, though he has requested a reinstatement of both.
He also discussed some of the reasons why he started the “legal transparency initiative” Plainsite, and how he came to be regarded as an Elon Musk nemesis.
“I created Plainsite with two friends in 2011, because we were all wondering why Occupy Wall Street didn’t have the impact we expected,” he reminisced. “No financial execs went to jail for the 2008 financial crisis though it really was obvious there had been criminal wrongdoing somewhere. One reason, we thought, was that people didn’t understand what the law said and what are the loopholes banks or execs were able to exploit to get out of being held accountable.”
Over the years, Greenspan has shorted stock in some of the companies he has researched and written about on Plainsite, disclosing those positions when he held them. He is not short Tesla today, but he has been in the past, he said.
Plainsite began its focused research on Tesla in 2018 after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Musk and Tesla with civil securities fraud.
The charges came after Musk tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and had funding secured to do so, causing a halt in trading that day, and sending Tesla stock into a period of volatility for weeks.
Musk and Tesla settled the charges with the regulators, without admission of guilt or the ability to claim innocence.
Greenspan said, “I was not interested in Tesla until the SEC took action against the company and Elon that year. That got me thinking that it may be over-valued, given the fact it was running into trouble with financial regulators.”
A community on Twitter, including short sellers and other subject matter experts interested in what Tesla was doing, became frequent Plainsite users and subscribers.
Court filings and public records rendered easily searchable by Plainsite often revealed details about Tesla’s troubles and tactics. Plainsite records obtained through FOIA requests have been widely cited by press including CNBC, Reuters, NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times and many others.
Since 2018, Greenspan has made court filings and other public records available on Plainsite that revealed:
- Twitter is facing more than 25 lawsuits over non-payment to vendors since Elon Musk took over in October 2022.
- Even as Musk continuously promised shareholders that Tesla was on the brink of delivering a “level 4-5” self-driving robotaxi – the company’s Autopilot engineers categorized its most advanced driver assistance systems as “level 2” in official government communications with the California DMV. A level 2 system is not self-driving, it requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.
- Complaints sent to attorneys general in Texas, Nevada and Ohio, showing that Tesla customers there were not able to get the EV maker to provide required documentation to register their vehicles with local DMVs.
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk once attempted to refer a former process technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory, whistleblower, Martin Tripp, to the US Attorney’s office for the District of Nevada for criminal prosecution (p. 192).
- Elon Musk knew but did not tell shareholders that SolarCity was facing a liquidity crisis at the time the Tesla board was pushing for an acquisition of the solar installer, which was started by Musk’s first cousins and where Musk was a major investor and board member.
In May 2020, Greenspan sued a Tesla promoter alleging harassment, and named Elon Musk as a party contributing to that harassment in the lawsuit.
In Feb. 2023, Musk sued Greenspan for publishing correspondence between the two of them on Twitter and Plainsite. The emails are still available on Plainsite.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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