SpaceX and Tesla Billionaire Elon Musk pulled off a surprising victory in a court case involving his alleged defamation of veteran British diving expert Vernon Unsworth after Musk called Unsworth as a “Pedo guy” on Twitter. This was during a spat in which both exchanged insults with respect to Musk’s attempt at providing a submarine to help in the eventual successful rescue of Thai boys from a cave – albeit that a Thai diver sadly lost his life.
At one point Musk looked likely to lose the case after it emerged that although he sent an apology to Unsworth, he had made subsequent similar allegations in further Twitter outburst and via an email to a journalist. Musk defended himself by noting that “pedo-guy” was a general insult in South Africa where he was brought up rather than a specific allegation that Unsworth was a paedophile. As Elon Musk put it during the trial: “I assume he didn’t mean to sodomise me with a submarine…Just as I didn’t literally mean he was a paedophile.”
In the end the jury found in Musk’s favour and he was found “not liable”.
Perhaps it is right that things said or written in the heat of the moment should be forgiven – well, so long as any subsequent apology is truly meant. Nevertheless, Musk will know that he had a lucky escape. He has already admitted that his Twitter proclamations represented a risk to himself and his interests. He had previously got into trouble with the US financial authorities for publishing data on his Twitter feed about his Tesla electric car company.