A California jury sided with Elon Musk, clearing him of defamation charges brought by a British diver whom the eccentric billionaire called a ‘pedo’. Musk insisted his tweet was meant as an insult, not an accusation of pedophilia.
It took the Los Angeles jury less than an hour to reach a not-guilty verdict in a trial that kicked off earlier this week. The high-profile spat between Musk and Vernon Unsworth dates from July 2018, when the billionaire and the expat squared off over the dramatic rescue of a Thai youth soccer team from a flooded cave.
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Unsworth, who lives in Thailand and is an expert in cave diving, mocked Musk’s proposal to send in a custom-built miniature submarine to facilitate the mission as a PR stunt, suggesting he “stick his submarine where it hurts.” Musk fired back with a tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” while goading him to file a lawsuit, which the latter eventually did.
Musk later apologized and deleted the tweet, telling the court that he perceives Twitter a “war zone” and his offhand remark as an insult, rather than a malicious lie to slander the diver.
Upon exiting the courtroom, the relieved Tesla and SpaceX CEO said that he was pleased with the verdict.
“My faith in humanity is restored,” he told reporters.
There has been mixed reaction on social media, with some arguing that Musk was given a pass by the jury because of his celebrity billionaire status.
“I wonder what it was about the celebrity billionaire Elon Musk that enabled him to escape all sanction for making a hugely damaging allegation against a private person which he admitted was completely baseless,” Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman tweeted.
I wonder what it was about the celebrity billionaire Elon Musk that enabled him to escape all sanction for making a hugely damaging allegation against a private person which he admitted was completely baseless
— Oliver Burkeman (@oliverburkeman) December 6, 2019
Others noted that it would be only fair if Musk now gets the taste of his own medicine, arguing the ruling suggest that calling Musk a “pedo guy” won’t be defamation either.
“I interpret this ruling as legalizing the act of calling Elon Musk a pedo,” one commenter quipped.
I interpret this ruling as legalizing the act of calling Elon Musk a pedo.
— Lord Acton-A-Fool (@LordActonAFool) December 6, 2019
Pedo guy Elon Musk wins case https://t.co/sxNiflU3ID
— Cody Johnston (@drmistercody) December 6, 2019
Elon Musk is a pedo guy. https://t.co/7MgiiIjxnd
— JB #Whamagettin (@UnrealJohnBoy) December 6, 2019
Musk is a grub. Rather than be glad these children were rescued he went on a rampage. Its all about who gets the glory not who actually deserved it. Nothing more than a petulant child.
Elon Musk found not liable in ‘pedo guy’ defamation trial https://t.co/FOyiOInOZg
— sheoaks (@sheoaks1) December 6, 2019
The verdict is not unusual, given that most defamation suits in the US get dismissed due to a very high burden of proof. Unsworth was seeking $190 million in damages.
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