A defamation case involving Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a British cave diver will go to trial on October 22nd, based on recent court filings. Vernon Unsworth sued Musk for defamation after Musk repeatedly accused Unsworth of being a pedophile. A judge rejected Musk’s claim he wasn’t creating a real accusation — in part due to a potentially damning email Musk sent to BuzzFeed. “A sensible fact-finder may easily conclude that [Elon Musk’s] statements… implied assertions of objective fact,” wrote district judge Stephen V. Wilson.
Musk and Unsworth got into a feud after the rescue of a football team which was trapped in a cave in Thailand. Unsworth, who helped with the rescue operation, criticized Musk’s dubious plan to save the team with a “kid-sized submarine. ” Musk insulted Unsworth by calling him a “pedo man ” on Twitter. He doubled down on the insult by tweeting “bet ya a signed dollar it’s true,” then elaborated further in mails to BuzzFeed — flatly claiming that Unsworth had transferred to Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time. ”
Was “pedo man ” a false accusation or a hyperbolic insult?
Defamation law doesn’t use to remarks or derogatory hyperbole, and Judge Wilson concluded that Musk’s case would be stronger if he’d simply tweeted an insult. But Musk “didn’t call [Unsworth] a ‘rsquo & pedo man; and leave it there,” writes Wilson. “Rather, he made followup statements suggesting that he believed his statements to be true. ” That included the mails to BuzzFeed, where Musk “purported to communicate actual facts and even suggested that the BuzzFeed reporter call people in Thailand to confirm his story. ”
The conclusion doesn’t imply Musk is guilty, but it means Unsworth’s case. A conference will take place on October 7th. This won’t be the first time Musk has gone to court to get some tweets. He settled a separate lawsuit with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused him of making misleading financial statements on Twitter.
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