Elon Musk on trial in US court over ‘pedo guy’ tweet

WION Web Team Los Angeles Dec 03, 2019, 08.01 PM(IST)

File photo of Elon Musk. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Musk’s legal team has claimed that the tweets were Musk’s opinion, not a statement of fact

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, is due to take the stand to go on trial for a defamation suit filed against him by Vernon Unsworth, British cave explorer who helped with the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand in July last year.

Musk has now-deleted the tweet which described Unsworth as a “pedo guy” for which Unsworth is now seeking punitive and compensatory damages for harming his reputation. 

The trial which begins on Tuesday before US district judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles. It will last for five days. The row started after Musk offered a SpaceX mini-submarine to help with the rescue mission of kids trapped in a cave in Thailand, to which Unsworth gave a statement to CNN on July 13, 2018, claiming it was a “PR stunt”.

Two days later, Musk took to Twitter to lash out against Unsworth in a series of tweets, including one which said, “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it."

When questioned about the accusations Musk replied with “bet ya a signed dollar it's true,” all of which were later deleted. Musk later sent out a tweet expressing apology after Tesla’s stock price dipped by as much as 4 per cent. 

“His actions against me do not justify my actions against him...spoken in anger after Mr Unsworth said several untruths and suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness and according to specifications from the dive team leader,” Musk tweeted. 

Judge Wilson earlier denied Musk’s legal team’s request to define Unsworth as a “public figure” due to which Unsworth does not have to provide proof that Musk acted with “actual malice”, lowering the bar necessary to win the case. 

Unsworth now only needs to prove negligence on Musk’s side and not an actual intent to defame. Unsworth is required to prove Musk’s comments to be false and that people believed them to be true. 

Musk is expected to testify in his own defence with his legal team insisting on not making any out-of-court settlements. “Pedo guy was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,”  said Musk in a court filing, which was claimed to be “offensive to the truth” by Unsworth’s legal team. 

"It is synonymous with ‘creepy old man’ and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanour, not accuse a person of paedophilia,” according to the Tesla chief.

Musk’s legal team has claimed that the tweets were Musk’s opinion, not a statement of fact, and also that Unsworth aimed to gain profit from his role in the rescue mission. 

The team also claims that Unsworth’s comments to CNN implying that Musk did not care about the lives of the trapped boys provoked Musk’s response.