Tesla workers are claiming that their new union’s Twitter account was shadowbanned, according to a National Labor Review Board charge filed on Friday.
Autopilot workers at the Buffalo Gigafactory 2 facility went public with a campaign to form a union on Feb. 14. But by the next day, the workers found that their account had been shadowbanned—meaning it doesn’t appear in Twitter’s search function if you type out either the account’s handle or display name. Elon Musk serves as the CEO at both Tesla and Twitter, and he is named in the NLRB charge.
“In February 2023, immediately following workers announcing a union campaign at the Tesla Gigafactory 2 facility, the above-named employer, through CEO Elon Musk and/or his agents and representatives, caused the Union's Twitter account (@united_tesla) to be shadow banned from the Twitter platform,” said the NLRB filing from Workers United, the union backing pro-union Tesla employees at the Buffalo facility.
“The shadow ban caused the Union's account to be less accessible and functionally hidden from workers and the public on Twitter, thereby stopping or discouraging protected concerted and/or union activity,” the filing said.
The union’s Twitter account was registered this month. An Autopilot worker at the facility who serves as the social media coordinator said they found out about the shadowbanning the day after the filing.
“By the morning of February 15, we had received an overwhelming amount of messages through Instagram, Reddit and Twitter, warning us that our Twitter handle was no longer searchable and only accessible via links,” Zahra Lahrache, a data annotation specialist for Autopilot, told VICE News in a statement. “After running a shadow ban test online, we found that our account had been ‘search suggestion banned’ on the one platform our employer owns.”
Even if a Twitter user follows the Tesla Workers United account on Twitter, searches for “Tesla Workers United” and “united_tesla”—the Twitter account’s handle— do not return tweets from the account. VICE News used three different shadowban-detecting tools to check the account’s status; two showed the account as being under a search or search suggestion ban, while the third detected no ban.
“As an initiative formed to feel heard, an explicit action by our own employer to silence us affirms the necessity of our endeavor,” Lahrache told VICE News in a statement.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla, purchased Twitter for more than $44 billion last year. Musk has fought previous efforts to form unions at Tesla, with the NLRB filing a complaint in 2021 over a tweet threatening the loss of stock options for unionized employees, and another last year over a ban on pro-union United Autoworkers shirts at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. facility.
Immediately after taking control of Twitter, Musk fired the unionized janitors who worked at the company’s New York office.
On Wednesday, the day after the union went public, Tesla fired more than 30 employees at the Buffalo facility, including a member of the organizing committee for the union. Tesla also implemented a ban at the facility on recording interactions without all participants’ permission; Workers United is filing a charge at the NLRB over this.
Musk and Tesla managers named in the charge did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News Friday. Twitter, which does not have a public relations department because Musk got rid of it, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.