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21.04.2019
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Tesla gets restraining order on short-seller who photographed employees

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Tesla has hit one of its prominent Twitter critics and short-sellers of the company with a restraining order — the same person who recently spotted and photographed a Model 3 being filmed by Tesla ahead of a planned “autonomy investor day” on April 22nd. The company was granted the temporary restraining order by the Alameda County Superior Court in California on Friday, which was first spotted by PlainSite.org. It’s not clear if the restraining order has been served.

Tesla claims California resident Randeep Hothi “stalked, harassed, and endangered” three of its employees who were driving the Model 3 on a Bay Area highway this past week. The company says Hothi “pursued these employees on the public highway for about 35 minutes, variously driving ahead of, beside, and behind them, and swerving dangerously close to the vehicle.” Tesla claims Hothi even swerved close enough to the Model 3 that the car’s crash avoidance safety feature was triggered.

The short-seller “stalked, harassed, and endangered” Tesla employees, the company says

The carmaker also claims that, in February, Hothi struck one of its employees while trespassing and surveilling the company’s Fremont, California factory. It says Hothi didn’t stop and “fled the scene.”

Hothi has to stay at least 100 yards away from Tesla’s Fremont factory or the employees named in the restraining order. He also has to stay 10 yards away from any Tesla vehicle with manufacturer plates within five miles of the factory. The order is effective until May 7th, when a hearing is scheduled.

Neither Tesla nor Hothi responded to requests for comment.

Posting under the username @skabooshka, Hothi published images of the Model 3 on Twitter on Thursday. He noted there were cameras mounted to the rear and inside the car, and theorized that the Model 3 was being filmed for Monday’s event. He claimed he saw the car violate speed limits, and noted it performed simple tasks like lane changes, implying Tesla might misrepresent the footage at Monday’s event.

Hothi is, according to his Twitter account, one of many Tesla short-sellers. Short-sellers are people who bet money that a company’s stock price will go down. The ones who focus on Tesla have built a thriving community on Twitter, where they collaborate around the hashtag #TSLAQ to try and identify what they believe is fraudulent activity by the company and its CEO, Elon Musk.

Musk has a long history battling Tesla shorts

Musk has a long history taunting people who short Tesla’s stock. He’s promised to “burn” them a number of times over the past few years, and he and his company even previously doxxed one of the most prominent anonymous short-sellers on Twitter, a user with the name @MontanaSkeptic. By filing for the restraining order on Friday, and including the information about @skabooshka’s Model 3 tweets, Musk’s company has again outed one of its most prominent short-sellers.

Tesla says Hothi’s actions go beyond photographing the Model 3 test. In its original petition for the restraining order, Tesla said Hothi “has a history of trespassing at Tesla’s facilities,” and that he “unlawfully” took photos and videos of those places and uploaded them to Twitter. Hothi and other Tesla short-sellers often post photos and videos of employee parking lots in an effort to estimate whether the company is operating at full production. They also photograph parking lots that Tesla uses to hold inventory, which they say offers insight into how much demand there is — or isn’t — for the company’s cars. Much of their crowdsourced research winds up on the website tslaq.org.

Shortly after PlainSite made the restraining order public, Musk replied to a 2018 tweet accusing Hothi as the person behind the @skabooshka account. That tweet links to a document on an image hosting site that accuses Hothi of attacking Tesla because his brother allegedly works for Volkswagen. “This is extremely messed up. @VW, what’s going on?” Musk wrote.

(Last August, the Wall Street Journal reported that Musk emailed Volkswagen Group’s CEO asking if “a Volkswagen employee was criticizing Tesla on Twitter, using a fake name.” Musk told the Journal that “Diess replied saying it was the guy’s brother. That’s pretty much it.”)

“I will not rest. This is my promise,” the @skabooshka account posted Saturday evening. “Tesla is a zero. @elonmusk will go to prison.”

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