The SEC wants to slam Elon Musk with contempt over a thirteen word tweet. Musk has taken to Twitter to both vaunt his company and castigate the SEC. He’s under an existing SEC settlement that requires company oversight of his communications. Musk’s brief tweet on Feb. 19 that stoked the ire of the SEC said: “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.” The SEC swooped in, charging that Musk hadn’t received preapproval for the tweet and convinced Musk had misled the public.
The SEC’s overzealous attempt to wield the contempt power is disturbing. Especially given Musk’s vocal and mocking disdain for the SEC, the regulator’s attempted coup over the content of his tweets raises serious First Amendment concerns. Here, it seems the 500K estimate was not precise, but Musk went on to clarify on his Twitter feed, and he didn’t conjure the number from the ether. At worst, it was incomplete information. Welcome to Twitter. I just can’t quite stomach the fact that a regulator is out there lurking, ready to pounce on any linguistic imprecision in a forum where brevity is the name of the game. Obviously, Musk’s statements have an impact on the market, but investors are sophisticated actors who should be expected to do their homework. The SEC’s paternalistic and aggressive monitoring of Twitter feeds should raise our hackles.