Meet the Silicon Valley dad who has Elon Musk’s ear. His gushing tweets prove it
There was the tweet last month from @Evas Tesla SPlaid that praised him for being “fit, ripped & healthy” and asked, “Hey, @elonmusk what’s your secret?”
The world’s richest man’s response: fasting and a diabetic drug that promotes weight loss.
There was the one from @ Tesla AIBot that reminded humans that we “are so incredibly lucky to have @elonmusk,” and the devout fan in India who anointed Twitter’s new owner as “sunshine for humanity.”But seemingly nowhere on the planet is the whirlwind of daily Musk -worship more pronounced than right here in Silicon Valley, where a soft-spoken dad like @teslaownersSV — aka John Stringer — has built one of Twitter’s largest fan accounts spreading the gospel of Elon. He has sent a torrent of tweets to the founder of Tesla and Space X, tagging him a staggering 1,374 times, just since late August.That’s an average of almost 19 times a day, according to data from Twitonomy, an analysis tool. And it’s a testament to the power of @elonmusk to cultivate a mass audience hanging on his every word, a power that continues to grow with the billionaire’s purchase of the globe’s digital soapbox.“This is the greatest engineer probably to ever live,” Stringer , a Silicon Valley native and South Bay tech company employee, said in an interview with the Bay Area News Group during a drive in his bright blue Tesla Model Y. “We should let him do his thing.”Long before taking the reins of Twitter last week, Musk had an infatuation with the social media platform, cultivating adoring fan accounts like Stringer ’s into an organic public relations team that amplifies his business interests, showers him with affirmations, and attacks naysayers.“He has very consciously built himself a cult of personality,” said Edward Niedermeyer, who wrote a critical history of Musk and his electric vehicle company Tesla . “Because of Elon’s role over the last 10 years, you can build a massive platform by doing nothing more than punching up his scams and promoting him.”
For Musk ’s most ardent fans, the reward of a coveted retweet or response can be life-changing.
“A lot of this I’m just doing out of gratefulness,” said Stringer , 35, who talked about his love of Musk and the hours of labor he spends elevating Tesla . And Musk has rewarded the effort, bestowing Stringer with dozens of direct responses that sustain his lofty place in the fanboy universe.It’s quite a group. Consider loyal admirer @PPathole, who declared Musk “an inspiration to the millions.” Or @WholeMarsBlog who recently asked if there is “anyone in the Bay Area with a child who can run in front of my car on Full Self-Driving Beta to make a point?”This chorus of accounts not only lauds Musk with praise but also acts as a firewall for criticism, with a track record of piling on to Musk ’s detractors and even longtime fans who stray from hero-worship. Stringer ’s path to fandom began around 2018 after he bought a Tesla . His passion for the electric vehicle technology hardened as he battled in the Twitter trenches against a barrage of critics forecasting the company’s demise. Back then Musk was still a relative upstart, seen by many as an eccentric tech savant pushing for a greener future. Now Tesla is valued at over $700 billion, eclipsing the combined value of Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and Honda.“I’ve seen the long journey of Elon, and that’s a huge part of why I’m here,” said Stringer . And Stringer ’s stature has also grown along the way: This Silicon Valley dad now tweets to nearly 600,000 followers.Over the years Stringer and Musk have chatted on Twitter hundreds of times. Sometimes the conversation with Musk is banal, like Stringer asking for his favorite cheese (Stilton). Other times, it’s headline-making, like in June when Musk said he is “leaning” towards supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president.In some ways, Musk keeps his relationship with fans at arm’s length. He does not follow Stringer , or any other of his biggest devotees, on Twitter, and they do not communicate by phone, Stringer said. Musk did not return requests for comment.But sometimes his most loyal followers actually meet the man himself. For Stringer , this happened in June, when Musk sat down for a rare in-person interview. Along with a few colleagues, the pair discussed Tesla history , Musk ’s “personal philosophy,” and the businessman’s favorite meal at Jack in the Box. (“The teriyaki bowl can be decent at times”).“Ultimately, I have no idea what’s gonna happen with this thing that I have with Elon,” said Stringer . “If it’s even really a thing, all I can say is, it can disappear like that.”Indeed, for Musk fans who stray from unadulterated support, there can be consequences. A longtime fan faced Twitter backlash after he publicly criticized Tesla ’s self-driving software and Musk told him to stop complaining.“The real nectar in the community is Elon tweets,” said Earl Banning an Army neuropsychologist in Alaska, hardcore Tesla fan , and self-proclaimed Twitter addict. “If you’re a nuanced person, you’re just off that list. You’re not going to get as much attention. You’re going to lose followers.”Banning has long been a torchbearer in the Tesla community and started a trend of Tesla owners posing for pictures with their dogs in their vehicles’ front trunks or “frunk.” Musk eventually hopped on the trend posting a photo of a grinning Shiba Inu. Banning’s excitement over Musk was so great it once brought him to tears – when Musk ’s SpaceX company pulled off a tricky double rocket landing.
“It was amazing,” said Banning. “I was crying in my office.”
But particularly since the pandemic, Musk ’s Twitter presence has turned darker, colored with off-putting arrogance, Banning said, as the billionaire platformed COVID-19 misinformation and became increasingly right-wing. “It’s just not much fun anymore.”As Banning’s views of Musk soured, his relationship with the Tesla community took an even darker turn. In September, Banning experienced a mutiny within the Tesla fan base he spent years cultivating. His transgression: criticizing Musk after he amplified a false anti-transgender notion that 4-year-olds are receiving hormone treatment. The topic was especially sensitive for Banning, who parents his transgender daughter.“People called me Judas,” said Banning. Former friends turned on him saying, “I bite the hand that feeds me and no one would know me if it wasn’t for Elon,” he said, recounting the backlash. “And how dare you speak up against him?”Now as Musk morphs from a Twitter content creator to the site’s owner, big questions remain over how he will control the platform. Will he allow hate speech to go unchecked? Will he routinely share with his 113 million followers baseless claims, as he did last weekend linking to a sordid conspiracy theory about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, which he then deleted? Banning said his experience with the Musk backlash is a worrying foreshadowing of what could be ahead.“Is it just going to be ‘Well, it’s free speech’ so it’s OK to spread propaganda about marginalized people or racist stuff – I’m not interested in that,” said Banning. “Is this what it’s gonna be like?”
“He has very consciously built himself a cult of personality,” said Edward Niedermeyer, who wrote a critical history of Musk and his electric vehicle company Tesla. Along with a few colleagues, the pair discussed Tesla history, Musk’s “personal philosophy,” and the businessman’s favorite meal at Jack in the Box. A longtime fan faced Twitter backlash after he publicly criticized Tesla’s self-driving software and Musk told him to stop complaining.
“The real nectar in the community is Elon tweets,” said Earl Banning an Army neuropsychologist in Alaska, hardcore Tesla fan, and self-proclaimed Twitter addict. Banning has long been a torchbearer in the Tesla community and started a trend of Tesla owners posing for pictures with their dogs in their vehicles’ front trunks or “frunk.”