Elon Musk called himself a “free speech absolutist” earlier this month. But that might not apply to his employees.
CNBC reported Tuesday that Tesla fired John Bernal from his job as a test operator for advanced driver-assistance systems. Bernal confirmed to Protocol that he was fired on Feb. 11, within two days of returning from medical leave — and a week after posting a YouTube video entitled “Tesla Full Self Driving Crash.”
Tesla couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. But according to CNBC, before his termination Bernal posted a number of Tesla reviews on his YouTube channel, AI Addict, giving viewers a thorough look at the company’s Full Self-Driving Beta system, which isn’t yet widely available.
The FSD Beta includes the ability for a Tesla to auto-steer on city streets. The crash video showed Bernal’s 2021 Tesla Model 3, which was outfitted with FSD Beta, hitting a bollard in downtown San Jose. It was the first crash Bernal had experienced in a year using the FSD Beta system, which he began testing at the same time he started his YouTube channel. Tesla reportedly cut Bernal’s access to the system, which he had free access to as an employee, when he was fired.
Bernal told CNBC that his managers had told him verbally that his YouTube channel was a “conflict of interest” and that he had broken “Tesla policy.”
Bernal said that the features he showed in his YouTube videos were all features that were available publicly as part of the beta, not limited to employees. He said he wasn’t aware of any specific policies, and according to CNBC, Tesla’s social media policy states that the company “relies on the common sense and good judgment of its employees” in their social media use, but doesn’t specifically address criticizing Tesla products publicly.