Twitter bots helped build the cult of Elon Musk and Tesla. But who’s creating them?


In early November 2013, the news wasn’t looking great for Tesla. A series of reports had documented instances of Tesla Model S sedans catching on fire, causing the electric carmaker’s share price to tumble.

Then, on the evening of Nov. 7, within a span of 75 minutes, eight automated Twitter accounts came to life and began publishing positive sentiments about Tesla. Over the next seven years, they would post more than 30,000 such tweets.

With more than 500 million tweets sent per day across the network, that output represents a drop in the ocean. But preliminary research from David A. Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, concludes that activity of this sort by so-called bots has played a significant part in the “stock of the future” narrative that has propelled Tesla’s market value to altitudes loftier than any traditional financial analysis could justify.

In a market in love with “meme stocks,” sexy narrative is proving far more profitable than financial analysis, said Kirsch, co-author of “Bubbles and Crashes: The Boom and Bust of Technological Innovation.”

“The Tesla narrative is extraordinarily powerful,” Kirsch said. Despite the company’s several brushes with bankruptcy, the vision of a planet-saving, world-dominating business enterprise has enabled Chief Executive Elon Musk “to keep selling stock to the public to keep it fueled. At a certain point, it does become self-fulfilling.”


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