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It’s a good thing Elon Musk isn’t in charge of the coronavirus response

Published Mar 8th, 2020 8:27PM EDT
Coronavirus panic
Image: John Raoux/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a 5-word tweet Friday afternoon that suggested coronavirus panic is “dumb.”
  • He’s continuing to take a fair amount of criticism on Twitter for this as coronavirus continues to spread. Contrast his statement, meanwhile, with another move from Apple CEO Tim Cook in response to the virus — he’s called this an “unprecedented event” and is allowing Apple employees in high-impact areas to work from home this week.
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As of the time of this writing, Elon Musk’s tweet from Friday afternoon calling coronavirus panic “dumb” has been liked more than 1.6 million times on Twitter.

That 5-word tweet is as good a Rorshach test as any for public assessment of the Tesla CEO. I agree with that tweet, some of you might respond — irrational panic, after all, probably does more harm than good and leads to unhelpful outcomes. Then again, others of you might regard the tweet as irresponsible, at a minimum, and that the brash billionaire is using the powerful megaphone of his Twitter account (which has almost 32 million followers) to spread the wrong kind of cautionary message we need right now. A reminder, per Reuters: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide has now passed 100,000 across more than 90 countries. And more than 3,400 people have died.

As expected, Elon has attracted a fair amount of criticism for the tweet, which comes amid news coverage from recent days highlighting flaws in the response so far from the Trump administration:

Let’s contrast this tweet, meanwhile, with a considerably different response from another CEO — Apple’s chief executive, who in a memo obtained by Bloomberg described this “as a challenging moment” for the iPhone maker and that the coronavirus outbreak is an “unprecedented event.”

Tim Cook’s memo was sent to Apple employees over the weekend and encourages them to “please feel free to work remotely if your job allows” from March 9-13. It’s a policy meant to impact “areas with the greatest density of infections,” Cook wrote, adding that Apple is “making a major effort to reduce human density and ensure those teams that are on-site can do their work safely and with peace of mind.”

Couple this with Apple moving swiftly early on to close stores in China and take other steps in response to the spread of the virus, and it makes for a stark contrast with a glib statement about panic being “dumb.” Over the weekend, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb shot back on Twitter in response to Elon’s tweet: “Saying the coronavirus panic is dumb is dumb.”

Taleb is the author of The Black Swan, a book published in 2007 about rare but high-impact events that seemed to foreshadow the Great Recession that would come the following year. On Sunday, Taleb tweeted the following passage from the book:

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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