Elon Musk is undoubtedly an electrifying founder, but when the chairman of one of the world's most visible publicly traded companies says he has plans to go private, then abandons them, it doesn't go unnoticed. To jog your memory, it all started with this tweet.

In the same month, he incurs three lawsuits against him and his company (including one for securities fraud and one unrelated), he snubs a deal from the SEC, draws ire from investors and the general public all around the world, smokes marijuana on a live broadcast (to his credit, the convo was pretty sensational), claims that "love is the answer," and finally steps down as chairman of Tesla. 

So, Elon, when's the movie coming out?

In all seriousness, a lot of people are wondering why Elon Musk refused a deal from the SEC on Saturday, then seemingly changed his mind only hours later. We might never know the full story. We do know that he was concerned about the "neither admit nor deny" nature of the settlement, which legally prevents him from saying later on that he did nothing wrong.

He did say, in addition to calling the SEC's action unjustified, that "Integrity is the most important value in my life." And while it's certainly fair to call him a risk-taker, and maybe even reckless, there aren't any cold, hard facts that would lead us to believe he's dishonest. We can only assume that one of Tesla's lawyers managed to convince Musk that a chunk of his pride would be easier to swallow than the penalties that regulators would have pushed for in court.

People are calling it the $20 million tweet, as that's the fine the SEC imposed on Musk. But they also fined Tesla a separate $20 million, and in response Musk purchased the same amount of stock in the company. So really, it cost him $40 million.

It also cost him his position as board chairman for a minimum of three years, as well as his ability to say whatever he wants on Twitter. Tesla will now have to sign off on his public statements, per the settlement.

Sometimes, free speech costs a whole heck of a lot. 

Arguably, the written word has never been as powerful as it is now, with social media giving us a platform to speak to millions of people on a whim. Thanks to video and live-streaming technology, combined with fiduciary duty, the spoken word shares that power as well. 

As a result, the old adage "think twice before you speak" is hardly enough anymore. For those of us privileged to live in countries where we can say just about anything, the question becomes one of whether it's wise to say something. 

Musk is being forced to learn that the hard way. Maybe the rest of us can benefit from the lesson, too.

Published on: Oct 1, 2018
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