Elon Musk draws ire after calling panic over coronavirus epidemic 'dumb'

Some followers are angry at the CEO, while others say he is addressing panic behavior, not the seriousness of the illness.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

Elon Musk is known for his buzzworthy tweets, but a tweet he sent Friday afternoon drew attention for his opinion about a virus. Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla , delivered his message in a concise five words: "The coronavirus panic is dumb."

Within seconds, Musk's tweet had been retweeted and liked hundreds, then thousands of times. Less than two hours after it was sent, the message had been retweeted more than 65,700 times, and liked 300,000 times. That's an enormous amount of social engagement even for a huge public figure like Musk. The social reaction drew the ire of people who felt he was downplaying the potential dangers, although others defended him, arguing he was talking about the worry over the virus, and not the virus itself. 

This is just the latest example of Musk's freewheeling Twitter behavior, which has landed him in trouble in the past. The CEO called British cave diver Vernon Unsworth a "pedo guy" in a 2018 tweet, and that brought him into court in a defamation case. (Musk was found not liable for damages on Dec. 6.) And a  2018 tweet in which he mused he might take Tesla private led to the SEC filing a lawsuit against him. The suit was later settled, with Musk required to pay a $20 million fine.

This time around, he couldn't have dived into a more headline-making topic. COVID-19, caused by a coronavirushas rapidly spread across the globe since its detection in China in December. It's now made its way to every continent besides Antarctica. The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a "public health emergency of international concern."

Musk didn't elaborate on the signs of "panic" he considered dumb, and some responded by saying that he wasn't taking the situation seriously enough. 

"Let's see how long it (takes) for him to delete this tweet," said one Twitter user.

"Elon this is not a good tweet," wrote economic strategist Bruce Fenton. "People are still not taking proper steps. You are a man of science. Can I set up a call with some scientists to help change your mind?"

Others said that while the disease is indeed serious, Musk was right to point out that panic behavior is uncalled for.

"The panic is dumb, not the virus," wrote one Twitter user. "The virus is a legitimate concern and is pretty serious. But panicking about it doesn't help anything."

On Friday, organizers canceled the 2020 South By Southwest conference and festivals amid coronavirus concerns. The Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle was pushed back until summer, organizers said. The Seattle area has been especially hard-hit by the virus, and the University of Washington has suspended in-person classes until at least March 20.

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