Elon Musk did not defame British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth by calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter, a Los Angeles jury found Friday.
The case has pitted a 64-year-old financial adviser earning a salary of about £25,000 ($33,000) against one of the richest and most famous men in the world. The dispute stems from the Tesla and SpaceX chief’s ancillary involvement in the Tham Luang cave rescue in June and July 2018, which saw 12 young football players and their coach successfully extracted from a flooded cave system by a team of British cave divers.
On 13 July 2018, after the successful completion of the rescue, Unsworth said in an interview with CNN that the rescue pod Musk had delivered to the cave site was a “PR stunt”, adding that he should “stick his submarine where it hurts”. A video clip of the interview went viral, drawing the ire of Musk.
The billionaire entrepreneur responded in a series of tweets on 15 July, suggesting that Unsworth’s presence in Thailand was “sus[picious]” and calling him “pedo guy”.
Musk eventually deleted the tweets and apologized to Unsworth.
The jury was tasked with determining whether a reasonable person would understand the tweets to mean that Musk was calling Unsworth a pedophile.
Musk’s attorneys argued that the tweet was not a statement of fact, but an insult, which is considered protected speech. They also attempted to show that Unsworth’s reputation had not been seriously damaged.
Unsworth’s attorneys introduced evidence of the broad dissemination of Musk’s tweets, which were reported in 490 English-language articles on 361 websites in 33 countries.
They also introduced evidence of Musk’s behavior after the 15 July tweets, including his hiring of a private investigator to seek proof of Unsworth’s “nefarious behaviour”.