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Elon Musk cleared of defamation for 'pedo guy' tweet

December 7, 2019

A Los Angeles jury has cleared the tech entrepreneur of any liabilities. The plaintiff's lawyer described Musk as a "billionaire bully" who had upended the life of a man of modest means in the highly publicized row.

Elon Musk
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/Mark J. Terrill

Elon Musk was cleared of defamation on Friday by a jury in Los Angeles, over a tweet in which he called a British cave rescue diver a "pedo guy."

The jury ruled in favor of Musk against Vernon Unsworth in less than an hour. Unsworth is a financial consultant who divides his time between Britain and Thailand. Last year he took part in the rescue of a dozen children trapped in a cave in Thailand.

Unsworth had called for $190 million (€172 million) in damages from Musk, claiming that his reputation had been damaged by the billionaire's tweet. Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla's chief executive, has 29.9 million followers on Twitter.

"My faith in humanity has been restored," Musk told reporters after the verdict. 

Unsworth's attorney, Lin Wood, had told the jury that the damages would be "a hard slap on the wrist" for Musk and would stop him "from ever planting a nuclear bomb in the life of another individual."

Read more: Tesla's Germany plans are no coincidence 

South African lingo 

During questioning, Musk argued that the term "pedo guy" was commonly used in South Africa, where he grew up. 

Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro, told jurors that it was Unsworth who had sought a fight and was trying to profit financially from what he called just "an argument between two people."

The lawyer maintained that Musk simply reacted with a tweet he later regretted. "This was just an insult," Spiro said. "Plaintiff is taking one of those insults and putting it in the spotlight.

"Elon Musk doesn't like that tweet ... Elon Musk's mom doesn't like the tweet," Spiro added, highlighting that the word pedophile was never mentioned specifically.

Read moreTesla factory outside Berlin to cost €4 billion

Where it all began

The 64-year-old Unsworth had played an integral part in the 2018 rescue efforts that saved the lives of 12 young boys and their football coach after they became trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks in Thailand's Chiang Rai province. 

Musk and his private rocket company SpaceX had heavily publicized a mini submarine they built to assist in the rescue, but it was never used. In July 2018, Unsworth called the move a "PR stunt" and told CNN that the vessel would never have worked.

Musk retaliated with a series of tweets two days later, including the tweet that labelled Unsworth "pedo guy."

Musk later apologized on Twitter and again during his testimony. 

mvb/dr (AP, AFP, dpa)

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