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Clash of tech titans: Zuckerberg praises coronavirus lockdowns; Musk sees 'fascism'

(Reuters) - Silicon Valley billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg offered dueling views on lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with Facebook’s Zuckerberg endorsing the measures while Tesla’s Musk condemned them as anti-democratic.

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Musk, who has often made outspoken and even inflammatory comments on conference calls and on Twitter, said in comments to analysts on Tesla Inc's TSLA.O earnings call that it was "fascist" to say people cannot leave their homes.

“This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom,” Musk said.

Zuckerberg, on the other hand, in comments on Facebook's FB.O own earnings calls, expressed concerns about easing lockdown measure and said the economic fallout from the pandemic would last longer than people are currently anticipating.

“I worry that reopening certain places too quickly before infection rates have been reduced to very minimal levels will almost guarantee future outbreaks and worse longer-term health and economic outcomes,” he said.

Both companies are based in the San Francisco Bay area, which was out front in trying to slow the virus’ spread, with the region’s seven counties issuing a joint shelter-in-place order before California issued a statewide order.

Electric carmaker Tesla and social media network Facebook have had different experiences under the lockdown. Tesla had initially resisted efforts by California authorities to shut its plant in the Bay Area under the lockdown, until agreeing on March 19 to suspend production. Even so, Tesla on Wednesday reported its third profitable quarter in a row.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, on Wednesday said usage rose during the first quarter amid the widespread lockdowns, although ad revenue plunged in March.

Musk did not mince words in criticizing the lockdowns.

“So the extension of the shelter-in-place or, frankly, I would call it, forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights, in my opinion, breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country,” Musk said, swearing to underscore his point.

“It will cause great harm, not just to Tesla, but to any companies. And while Tesla will weather the storm, there are many small companies that will not,” he said.

Zuckerberg and Musk, who is also chief executive of rocket company SpaceX, have had differences in the past. In 2017, a war of words broke out between the duo over whether robots will become smart enough to kill their human creators.

“I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.” Musk tweeted at the time about Zuckerberg, who downplayed Musk’s warnings about the danger of artificial intelligence.

In May 2018, Musk made waves on another earnings call when he refused to analysts’ questions, saying that “boring, bonehead questions are not cool.” He later apologized for his remarks.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Akanksha Rana; editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler

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