Tesla Claims Its False Advertising Was Protected Free Speech

Tesla is under fire by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles over the company’s ads claiming its cars are completely self-driving, which they’re not. Elon Musk’s electric car company argues that its claims of being self-driving are protected under free speech, according to court documents made public by The Register Monday. At the same time, a lawsuit claims Elon Musk made potentially fraudulent claims during his acquisition of Twitter, which he hypes as a bastion of free speech.

Teslas are not fully autonomous vehicles yet, but the company allegedly advertised them as though they are. California’s DMV accused Tesla of fraud for saying its vehicles had “full self-driving capability,” among other false claims from the car company. Tesla published disclaimers saying current models “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous” on its website. In court documents recently made public, Tesla is making the argument this court case should be thrown out altogether because its claims are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

At no point does Tesla refute that its cars don’t actually drive themselves or the fact that Tesla advertised its cars as being fully “autonomous.” Tesla’s argument hinges on the fact that the California DMV conducted three previous investigations on the company’s claims of “full self-driving capabilities” and took no action until its 2022 legal accusations. Tesla is hoping the case gets thrown out altogether, but if not, Tesla could be risking a lot for the sake of lying.

Elon Musk wants his EVs to drive themselves, but Teslas aren’t there just yet. Teslas indeed have better self-driving technology than most other cars. However, if the company profited off of marketing and branding its cars as being fully autonomous when they’re not, as the California DMV alleges, that’s fraud.

Tesla’s free speech push is par for the course from an Elon Musk company. At The New York Times Dealbook Summit in November, Musk told advertisers to go f–k themselves in the name of free speech. The CEO of X also reinstated the account of Alex Jones, who called the mass shooting of Sandy Hook Elementary students a lie, in the name of free speech. The billionaire is risking it all with his free-speech absolutism. The First Amendment doesn’t protect fraud, especially when people profit off of lies.

A class action lawsuit claiming Musk lied to get a lower price on his Twitter acquisition was given a go-ahead from a federal judge on Tuesday. Musk tweeted about the number of bots on Twitter right before he bought it, speculating there were more fake accounts on the platform than the company suggested. The lawsuit sees those tweets as potential securities fraud.

The Twitter acquisition lawsuit and the accusation from the California DMV mean Musk’s lies are being challenged as fraud at two of his companies. Musk is betting that the First Amendment can get him out of both cases, but that’s no guarantee.

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