Many Twitter users became confused on Monday night after it was revealed that liking a tweet critical of Tesla resulted in a strange warning on the social media platform. Users immediately started to speculate the warning was there because Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, recently became the CEO of Twitter and is notoriously thin-skinned. But there’s a simpler explanation than Musk trying to protect the brand of his electric car company.
The tweet in question comes from user Brad Munchen who shared an article from the English-language site China Daily, which is owned by the Chinese Communist Party.
“Imagine the head of the China Passenger Car Association saying this about your company,” Munchen tweeted with a screenshot highlighting a quote from Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association.
“Tesla’s facing a serious problem of a very limited product mix,” the quote in the China Daily story reads. “Its slowness to respond to Chinese consumers’ preferences has led to a very passive positioning for Tesla to rely on few means, such as price cuts, to stay competitive.”
Anyone who tries to like the tweet is met with a warning that reads, “Help keep Twitter a place for reliable info. Find out more before liking this Tweet.” I’ve circled the warning that pops up in the tweet below.
But the reason for the warning isn’t Musk’s well-documented sensitivity around criticism of his various brands, believe it or not. The warning actually appears on any attempt to like a tweet from a state-owned news source originating in China or Russia. And you can try it yourself.
For example, China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying often tweets links to Xinhua, a Chinese state media outlet. But if you try to like any of those tweets, you’ll receive the same warning.
It should be noted that you can still like the tweet, you just have to read a warning first.
The warning also appears for anyone trying to like a tweet sent out from Russian state media outlet Sputnik News. But the warning doesn’t appear for state-backed media outlets that are considered allies of the U.S., including Germany’s DW news outlet.
Curiously, we know from texts made public in the trial between Twitter’s former board and Elon Musk that the billionaire doesn’t actually have a personal problem with state-run news out of other countries.
In tweets between Musk, who’s identified as “self” in the court documents, and Antonio Gracias, the former head of Tesla, the billionaire says that he actually finds Russia Today to be entertaining.
“EU passed a law banning Russia Today and several other Russian news sources. We have been told to block their IP address,” Musk texted on March 5, 2022, according to court documents.
“Actually, I find their news quite entertaining,” Musk says in another text message to Gracias.
“Lot of bullshit, but some good points too,” Musk wrote in a follow-up.
Musk, who’s notorious for breaking many of Twitter’s unspoken etiquette rules, has previously received criticism for being too cozy with both Russia and the Chinese Communist Party, two U.S. adversaries in the New Cold War. Musk, for instance, received praise from politicians in Beijing when he suggested Communists should exert control in Taiwan.
But even if Musk has gotten criticism, he’s still kept Twitter’s warning on state-backed news outlets as part of the platform. That is, if he’s even aware that Twitter is still giving a warning about tweets to state-owned media outlets in China and Russia. Because if there’s one thing we know for certain about Musk’s purchase of Twitter: He didn’t really know what he was buying when he offered to take the company private. There have been plenty of surprises, to say the least.