Insulting but not defamatory language. This is essentially the view of a Los Angeles jury that acquitted Elon Musk after a brief hour of deliberation on Friday. Tesla’s boss was sued for defamation by a British speleologist who had acted as intermediaries in the rescue of Thai children trapped in a flooded cave in 2018.
Insulting but not defamatory language. This is essentially the view of a Los Angeles jury that acquitted Elon Musk after a brief hour of deliberation on Friday.Tesla’s boss was sued for defamation by a British speleologist who had acted as intermediaries in the rescue of Thai children trapped in a flooded cave in 2018.
Vexed by Vernon Unsworth’s critics against his mini-submarine and an operation described as a “publicity stunt”, Musk had called him a “pedo guy (pedophile guy), on Twitter, where he has 30 million followers. “I have regained faith in humanity,” the billionaire told reporters at the end of the hearing. Unsworth had said he was “humiliated and dirty” for life after being “publicly named as a pedophile”. He was claiming $190 million in damages.
“He can put his submarine where it hurts”
In July 2018, twelve Thai children and their football coach were trapped in a flooded cellar for 18 days. A time trial race had begun, mobilizing international rescuers. Elon Musk had offered his services, testing a mini-submarine in the pool to be guided by two divers to evacuate the children one by one.
Vernon Unsworth, a British speleologist living in Thailand, had criticized in a television interview a “publicity stunt” by Elon Musk. According to the expert, the 170 cm long rigid metal tube “could never have passed the obstacles” of the tunnel network, concluding: Elon Musk “can put his submarine where it hurts. “Stung to death, the billionaire retorted on Twitter, swearing to prove his concept, ending his message with “Sorry pedo guy”.
$50,000 paid to a fake private investigator
The case was not just about that tweet. In an email sent to BuzzFeed, Elon Musk later assured – without providing any proof – that the speleologist was a “child rapist”, accusing him of having a relationship with a “child-woman who was 12 years old when they met”.
According to court documents, these allegations actually came from an alleged private detective, who had contacted Elon Musk claiming to have compromising information about the speleologist. Tesla’s boss paid her $50,000, but the private investigator was actually a con man. Vernon Unsworth’s partner, who had contacted the Daily Mail, is actually 40 years old and was 33 when they met.
Elon Musk escaped conviction because it is extremely difficult to win a libel suit in the United States, where freedom of expression is protected by the First Amendment: it must be proven that a person acted with “malice” and knew that his accusations were false at the time of the offence.