Elon Musk wins in defamation trial over his ‘pedo guy’ tweet

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Elon Musk. Mike Blake/Reuters

A jury ruled on Friday that Elon Musk is not guilty of defaming Vernon Unsworth, a British cave explorer who took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys on a soccer team and their coach after they became trapped inside a cave in Thailand.

“My faith in humanity is restored,” Musk said after the verdict was announced, BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac reported.

Mac describedUnsworth’s expression as “stone faced.”

Unsworth sued Musk in 2018, accusing him of defamation after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO called him a “pedo guy” on Twitter. (Musk later apologised to Unsworth and deleted the tweet.)

Musk had delivered his insult to Unsworth when the diver criticised him days after the successful rescue operation ended. Unsworth called Musk’s “minisub” that he had sent to the rescue operation a “PR stunt” and said Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Lawyers for Unsworth argued that the term “pedo guy” was widely interpreted as Musk suggesting the diver was a pedophile. Musk denied that assertion, saying the phrase is a common expression in South Africa, where he was born.

The case put front and centre the potential consequences of public musings from an outsize figure like Musk and the effects those statements can have on a private citizen who happened to cross him.

For a CEO, Musk is unusually outspoken on Twitter. Musk’s account on the social-media platform is a powerful marketing tool for his companies, but his tweets have attracted regulatory scrutiny, including a 2018 lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission that forced him to step down as the chairman of Tesla’s board of directors for three years and pay a $US20 million fine.

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