Among the few: a software developer in San Francisco previously banned from Twitter, a former design student in Germany who now works for Tesla, a psychologist in Dayton, Ohio and an information technology worker in India.
The people behind the handful of Twitter accounts are Tesla owners, electric car supporters or automaker investors, if not all three. Users share exuberant posts about Tesla vehicles, gossip about other automakers, and organize rides to corporate events.
They also defend Mr. Musk and his companies on the platform and through YouTube channels, podcasts and websites. Some have been accused of online harassment by other Twitter users, and in at least one case the community has turned on one of their own after the CEO questioned their allegiance.
“The seriousness of this guy and the impact he’s having in so many industries is so huge that you’re just drawn in,” said Omar Qazi, who co-runs @WholeMarsBlog, one of the accounts Mr. Musk responds to. most of the time. “People are trying to attack you just for talking to her.”
Mr. Musk, as the richest man in the world and the boss of a trillion-dollar company, is one of the most influential users of Twitter. He gained fame for posting memes, bashing short sellers and making outrageous statements, whether mocking regulators or joking about quitting his job. Last week, the Tesla CEO made an offer to buy shares of Twitter he did not own in a deal valuing the company at around $43 billion.
Most of Mr. Musk’s Twitter activity is responding to other tweets, according to an analysis of Twitter data from The Wall Street Journal. Last Friday, the boss of Tesla had responded to tweets from about 5,700 accounts since June 2009, according to the Journal’s analysis. About 20 accounts, nearly all of which expressed support for Mr. Musk and his businesses, received more than a quarter of those responses.
Mr. Musk’s public connection with Tesla fans has nurtured a sense of community among investors and customers, his supporters say. Tesla benefits from digital content creators to market its products and has largely avoided spending large sums on advertising. The company’s referral programs have provided customers with free vehicles and use of its fast-charging stations, among other benefits.
Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment. Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.
Earl Banning, a psychologist from Ohio, is known in the Tesla community for taking a photo of his dogs in the front trunk of his Model X and helping popularize the “Frunkpuppy” trend. Eventually, Mr. Musk and his mother will contribute with their “Once you’re sort of known as one of the people Elon responds to, people want to follow you,” Mr. Banning said.
Mr. Banning, whose @28delayslater account has 70,100 followers, has agreed to be a Tesla influencer. He said he logged on to Twitter most mornings and then planned to post tweets throughout the day, many of which were memes about Tesla news or Mr. Musk.
When the Tesla CEO said on Twitter that his Wikipedia page was crazy in December 2019, German student Vivien Hantusch suggested in a tweet that he join her, Mr. Qazi and others on their Tesla-focused podcast to discuss what was wrong. The group was invited to Mr. Musk’s residence and then recorded a three-hour interview.
Ms Hantusch had around 134,200 followers in December 2021 when she deactivated her @flcnhvy account, even though it was one of the two accounts with the most replies from Mr Musk.
Two screenshots of Tesla’s internal employee directory reviewed by the Journal show Ms. Hantusch is listed as an assistant to the CEO. Videos posted online at the opening of Tesla’s first European factory last month showed Ms Hantusch alongside a group including German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz and Mr Musk. She did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.
Pranay Pathole, a software engineer from Pune, India, tweeted Tesla boss at least 160 times over about a year before getting a response. In January 2018, he tweeted about an issue with the windshield wipers activating when opening a Tesla car door. Mr Musk replied that the problem would be “fixed in the next version”, a reference to an update to the vehicle’s software. Once the tweet arrived, Mr Pathole said he ran to tell his mum and dad.
Today, Mr. Pathole has 125,100 followers on his account, @Ppathole, and responds to requests from people to pitch business ideas to Mr. Musk. He recently asked if the CEO would “consider creating a new social media platform with an open source algorithm, where freedom of expression is the top priority.” The Tesla chief replied, “I’m seriously considering this,” and on Thursday said he would implement those ideas if he was able to make Twitter private.
“Musk has an extraordinary mastery of social media, and he has an army of Muskites he can influence to treat any stock, or even cryptocurrency, as a meme stock,” said analyst Eric Seufert. independent and owner of Mobile Dev. Memo trade blog.
It took more than a decade for Mr. Musk to reach 40 million Twitter followers in November 2020. He reached 80 million this month.
Around 2018, it intensified its engagement with individual investors. At that time, Tesla was struggling to ramp up production to meet its goals and take advantage of the tax incentives made available for electric vehicle purchases. Losses were also piling up.
Investors who held on were rewarded. Tesla’s market capitalization crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in October, about 30 times higher than in May 2019.
“There were basically a lot of people, a lot of very smart, powerful, well-connected people, betting against Tesla,” said Qazi, who bought his Tesla Model 3 about five years ago.
He created the @tesla_truth account in November 2018, using a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to convince people that Tesla vehicles were the cars of the future. Mr Qazi said he frequently tweets at short sellers, telling them they are wrong about Tesla and will lose a lot of money.
Mr. Qazi said his account had been repeatedly suspended for issues including Mr. Jobs impersonation and copyright infringement, and was finally banned in late 2019.
The @WholeMarsBlog account, which has 59,500 followers and which he operates with several other people, posts an average of 148 tweets per day.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Tuesday, Messrs. Qazi and Banning sent out dozens of tweets about a news article citing research that Twitter bots, or fake automated accounts, were being used to promote Tesla.
The two Tesla influencers shared memes mocking the writer and researcher, accusing them of being part of a group of Tesla doubters. “Be honest, are you a bot? Mr. Banning tweeted.
David Kirsch, a University of Maryland professor who conducted the research, said he had never held a position in or against Tesla stock.
A Tesla owner and investor who had connected with Mr Musk on Twitter is no longer receiving responses from the chief executive. In April 2019, Mr. Musk named Frederic Lambert of Montreal as “de facto anti-Tesla” following articles he wrote on Electrek, a website that aggregates news about electric vehicles.
Mr Lambert said at the time that at least 50% of his stock portfolio was made up of Tesla shares and that he owned a Tesla Model S and Model 3. was a mistake,” he said. The hero had publicly turned against him and he said that the Tesla community had followed his leader.
Over the years, there has been a shift in Mr. Musk’s use of Twitter, and conversations around Tesla have become polarized, Mr. Lambert said. He said the CEO would only engage with “people who are nothing but extreme promoters”.
Concerns about online harassment within Tesla’s digital community have also led to litigation. Aaron Greenspan, an investor who had a short-term interest in Tesla, sued Messrs. Qazi and Musk in federal court in Northern California in May 2020, alleging, among other things, defamation and securities violations. Mr. Greenspan alleges that Mr. Qazi harassed him via Twitter, phone calls, websites and text messages.
In documents filed in court, attorneys representing Messrs. Qazi and Musk said Mr Greenspan had failed to provide enough evidence to support his charges and called for the case to be dismissed. Mr. Qazi alleges that Mr. Greenspan harassed him for years. Mr. Greenspan denied the allegation. The trial is ongoing.
“It’s pretty cool in a way,” Mr Qazi said, “if you look at the trial, it says ‘Elon Musk and Omar Qazi’.”