As of December 7, 2019, Elon Musk has 29,890,270 followers on Twitter. Anything he says there will have a much more significant impact than a private conversation would. This is why calling Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy” put him in trouble. Unsworth led the rescue efforts for a boys soccer team in Thailand back in July 2018. Luckily for Musk, the jury in charge of his case declared he is “non-liable” of defamation, as Unsworth sued him for.
Musk’s line of defense was that “pedo guy” is slang in South Africa for “creepy old man,” not precisely pedophile. That would have been just a heated response to Unsworth’s remarks on the mini-submarine Musk and employees developed to try to save the Thai boys.
The British cave diver said it was just a PR stunt from Musk since the escape pod would be unusable, and suggested Musk stuck it “where it hurts.”
Led by attorney Alex SpiroQuinn, a partner at the Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan law firm, the defense strategy also pointed out that Unsworth’s reputation was not damaged.
On the contrary: the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn gave him a royal award. He was also made an MBE back in June by Prince William. Finally, the former British prime minister Theresa May gave him a hero’s welcome. If they deemed him a pedophile, that all would not have happened.
The Tesla CEO also apologized to Unsworth, but the British diver did not apologize for telling Musk to shove his mini-sub. The British cave explorer said his insult was to “the tube,” not personally to Musk. Ok...
The defense alleged that Unsworth did not manage to prove all criteria required for defamation to stand. It also said that ruling the case as a statement of truth and not just as an insult would be a way to police speech. In other words, against freedom of expression.
The fact is that Musk was cleared of the accusations. He just should bear in mind millions of people follow what he says and that they have a huge impact. That is the reason many websites never publish anything negative about Tesla: to be in his good grace and have more audience when he retweets their flattering stories.
With his faith in humanity restored – as he stated when leaving the court – Musk has already recognized it was very unwise or, in his own words, "still one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done." We’re glad he learned his lesson. May he keep doing what he does best: pushing Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink ahead.