It’s been nearly a year since Tesla dissolved its PR department, and even longer since our own Jason Torchinsky started getting cabin fever from their lack of official communications. Now, we’re starting to unravel the complex web of YouTubers, Twitter users, and general stans that serves as the company’s new media wing.
Our old friend Aaron Gordon dug through social media and spoke with “Full self-driving” early access testers to piece together Tesla’s new approach to maintaining its image. From his piece at Vice’s Motherboard:
Motherboard has learned that every FSD Beta tester signs a non-disclosure agreement in order to be a member of the Early Access Program (EAP), a community of Tesla aficionados the company selects. This NDA, the language of which Motherboard confirmed with multiple beta testers, specifically prohibits EAP members from speaking to the media or giving test rides to the media.
NDAs in software development aren’t unusual. They’re commonly used to preserve intellectual property, and we all know how serious that can be. What’s odd about Tesla’s approach, though, is that their NDA actually encourages the time-honored art of Posting — as long as it’s in the company’s favor.
Tesla is known for its hatred for shorts in the market, and its love of them in merchandising. A common refrain among fans is that short-sellers (or owners of competing stocks, people employed by traditional carmakers, big oil, or anyone with a financial stake against Tesla) are responsible for bad press about the company.
Here, the company urges selective posting by “FSD” early-access program members, once again from Motherboard:
It also says: “Do remember that there are a lot of people that want Tesla to fail; Don’t let them mischaracterize your feedback and media posts.” It also encourages EAP members to “share on social media responsibly and selectively...consider sharing fewer videos, and only the ones that you think are interesting or worthy of being shared.”
That language comes right as multiple videos of “FSD” failures are still fresh in everyone’s minds. It would be easy to read this as suggesting that beta testers shouldn’t post content that shows flaws in the system.
While the new, broad release of “FSD” — the fabled “Button” — bases access to the beta off of a driver’s “Safety Score”, the more selective earlier rollout didn’t have such defined selection criteria. Even the testers don’t seem to fully know what makes them qualified to oversee these early-stage tests.
Other manufacturers use operators specifically hired to audit the decisions made by the AI that’s been given control over their test vehicle. Tesla appears to choose testers based on brand loyalty.
The current “FSD” release doesn’t seem to have any non-disclosure language in its initial terms, so it’s possible we’ll soon see footage of the beta that isn’t subject to the early access NDA. Whether that will mean more raw unedited video, or more cherry-picked highlights from fans of the company, remains to be seen.