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Tesla vs CNN: A Brooklyn Ride With FSD Beta and Very Frightening Results

The most amazing thing about the tight-knit Tesla community is that it is, without a doubt, the most supporting fanbase an automaker has ever built. The worst part about it is that, because of this kind of unwavering support, it’s vicious in its “you’re either with us or against us” approach to all kinds of criticism.
Unsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon Musk 7 photos
Photo: YouTube / CNN Business
Unsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon MuskUnsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon MuskUnsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon MuskUnsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon MuskUnsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon MuskUnsanctioned review of a Tesla Model 3 with FSD Beta prompts bitter backlash from Tesla community, Elon Musk
This is the simplified context to best understand the bitter dispute now raging online. On one hand, there’s a new CNN Business video review, of the FSD (Full Self Driving) Beta suite on a Tesla Model 3. On the other, there’s Elon Musk himself and the ever-so-passionate Tesla community, arguing that the review is biased or maybe even funded by third-party interests that want Tesla to fail. Or downright stupid.

Tesla has recently rolled the FSD Beta on public roads, using drivers selected by means of a Safety Score as test drivers. CNN Transportation Editor Mike Ballaban is not one of the drivers in the program, so in order to get a taste of how a Tesla Model 3 handled using FSD Beta on city streets, he and CNN got a Tesla owner to lend them their car. That alone is enough to get the owner booted from the program, but that’s a different story.

Ballaban’s experience turned out to be frightening, to say the least. The video below sums up his drive through busy Brooklyn streets, including the times when the car seemed to want to drive itself into incoming vehicles (including two trucks) or to make abrupt and unsafe turns, or stalled in traffic for no other reason but that it needed time to make a decision.

The video is riddled with “whoas!” from a “skittish” Ballaban, who admits that he’s not an everyday Tesla driver and that he doesn’t feel safe while using FSD in heavy traffic. Still, he does what all FSD Beta test drivers are supposed to do, namely keeping his eyes on the road and his hands ready to take over the wheel and control from the software. His conclusion is that FSD Beta is not full self-driving despite the name, and that it’s not ready for public roads. He compares it to riding with a teenage driver, in that you never know what they might do or how badly they might screw up.

The Tesla community and, just as importantly, Elon Musk himself, don’t see it the same way. For one, they say, Ballaban should not have been allowed to try the FSD suite since he had not been verified against the Safety Score and was not part of the program. He is an inexperienced user and he’s making a show of painting FSD in a negative light, Teslarati argues.

Not once does Ballaban mention that this is a Beta version of the program, a detail not lost with Tesla supporters. Having no knowledge of what FSD is all about or how it’s being rolled out, a viewer could walk away from this video with the impression that Tesla is saying that the software is ready for wide public use. Ballaban does say at one point that he’s not out to discredit the carmaker or Elon Musk for their efforts toward full autonomy, but the point is moot since he doesn’t give the full context. By not offering all the details, including how he’s not a part of the Beta testing program, his review is angled toward sensationalism.

It might even be worse than this, other Tesla supporters are saying in the comments: CNN could be taking money from ICE carmakers who want to see Tesla fail, so this would be a direct hit on the EV maker. On Twitter, Musk too hints to something along similar lines, saying the review was written before the test drive. He also responded with a laughing emoji to someone commenting on the Ballaban’s obvious and questionable acting for the camera.

The safety of rolling out FSD Beta to more drivers, no matter how they were trained or scored in advance, has been the topic of many conversations in recent months. They always end this way, with the only difference being perhaps that response from the Tesla community isn’t as vitriolic as it is with this CNN review. CNN and Ballaban became easy targets the very moment when they got one of the Tesla testers to breach the Tesla trust by lending them his FSD-ready Model 3, and with everything else that followed.

But there is something to be taken away from this new bitter dispute, and that’s not the creativity of some of the insults thrown around in the virtual space. It’s the underlying and oftentimes unspoken fact that we’re still a great distance away from a fully-autonomous vehicle. It might not be “years” as Ballaban suggests, but the end goal is still far away. In the meantime, we must all keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel.





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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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