Yesterday I was off for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and as you may expect was pretty busy atoning and apologizing to the many, many people I’ve been a jackass to or whose jackets I accidentally peed on or whatever. In the middle of all this, I saw that at least two videos showing unflattering depictions of Teslas had suddenly been removed, causing lots of (mostly unfounded) speculation online. It’s all interesting and strange, so let’s see what happened.
First, I should say that there’s not currently any conclusive evidence that Tesla itself arranged for the videos to be taken down, and I’m not going to suggest that unless there’s evidence that actually supports it.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m not really crazy about writing so much about Tesla recently, often negatively, and I promise you I’m not doing this because it excites me or anything. I’ve made it very clear that I think Tesla vehicles are, by and large, fantastically engineered. But Tesla is interesting to many people, and the act of testing semi-automated driving software on public roads is one of the biggest driving questions of the moment, and Tesla generates passionate responses, as we can see in this situation here, where there’s lots of speculation that there’s some kind of conspiracy involved in the removal of these videos:
The first video in question was of a Tesla Model 3 that appeared to be driving too fast, hit a bump in the road which caused some sort of impact to the battery tray, which then burst into flames, flinging burning battery cells around as it crashed. You can sort of make out a flash in the top image.
The video’s original poster stated he took the video down out of respect to the families of the people involved in the wreck:
Which is, of course, understandable. The internet being the internet, that video was duplicated and is still available all over the place. Out of respect for the family, I won’t link to the video here. It’s got the original poster’s name and phone number watermarked all over it which makes it sort of difficult to see, but you can tell what’s going on.
The wreck seems reminiscent of one that happened just under a year ago, when a speeding Model 3 crashed and sent flaming battery cells flying, setting a bed in a nearby apartment on fire.
There’s lots of speculation that the video’s poster was paid to remove the video, but, again, there’s no proof.
We reached out to the person who shot and posted the video, Ian, and asked him why he posted the video in the first place. He decided to publish the video because he wanted to bring some attention to the crash, stating that
“I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion that cars shouldn’t explode.”
Ian also noted that he sent the video to the NHTSA and NTSB, as well as passing it on to the Miami police. He also said that the watermark was there to prevent local TV stations from using it, and removed it because of requests from the families of the people in the car, not because he was paid off. In context, I think he handled this about as well as anyone could.
The other video that was attempted to be scrubbed from the internet yesterday is perhaps a stranger situation. This one was a video showing a Seattle-area driver testing the Full Self Driving (FSD) Beta 10 software, and in that video the car seems to make a beeline for some pedestrians at a crosswalk.
The original video has become unavailable:
...seemingly because of a DMCA copyright challenge:
I don’t know for certain who issued the DMCA challenge to the video; of course people are suggesting Tesla was behind it, but I don’t think Tesla would have copyright claims to a video they didn’t shoot. The original poster of the video could have done it, though that would be a bit odd since they made the video public in the first place, but who knows at this point.
Of course, the internet’s gonna internet, so you can still see the video:
That is a pretty alarming failure there; I’m not sure if that woman in the red coat owed that Model 3 money or something, but the car sure did seem to point itself right at her.
Independently, both these videos show what seem to be pretty significant issues with Tesla’s cars. The first one brings up a lot of questions about just what happened when the car’s pan apparently impacted the ground to cause the battery packs to rupture and ignite—was there a suspension failure that allowed it to bottom out so violently? Was there some other factor at play?
It’s hard to tell, but it’s clearly an issue worth looking into.
For the FSD pedestrian-hunting video, I think if Tesla and their owners are going to insist on testing Beta software controlling a 4,000+ pound car on public roads, the more transparency the better, and that means videos showing how the car behaves, good and bad, should be available for the public to see.
Seems only fair if it’s on public roads, right?
Again, we don’t know for sure why these viral-trending videos were removed, but both being removed on the same day is, at the very least, interesting, and it’ll be worth watching what happens to other possibly unflattering videos in the future.