Are business rivals behind online attacks Elon Musk?

Bloomberg Businessweek reports: On Sept. 2 the conservative web magazine the Federalist published an article titled “Elon Musk Continues to Blow Up Taxpayer Money With Falcon 9.” The author was identified as Shepard Stewart. Two days earlier, the Stewart byline appeared on a piece on the Libertarian Republic website called “Here’s How Elon Musk Stole $5 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars.” Two days before that, the Liberty Conservative site carried a Stewart article headlined “Elon Musk: Faux Free Marketeer and National Disgrace.”

Funny thing, though: Shepard Stewart isn’t a real person. “Definitely a fake,” says Gavin Wax, editor-in-chief of the Liberty Conservative. A chagrined Wax says the “Stewart” character “went totally dark on us after we published him.” Wax discovered that a photograph “Stewart” uses online appears to be an altered version of a former Twitter executive’s LinkedIn headshot.

Musk attracts an unusually large and varied number of shrouded online attacks, including phony op-ed pieces, websites with shadowy backers, and individuals who hide behind aliases. “These are tools used by those who don’t have facts on their side,” says Sarah O’Brien, a spokeswoman for Tesla, the electric car maker Musk co-founded and runs.

The Liberty Conservative has taken down its Stewart article, as has the Libertarian Republic. The Federalist site still has its piece up. Editors with the latter two didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls seeking comment. [Continue reading…]

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