Tesla CEO Elon Musk has appeared in a packed Los Angeles courtroom, over a defamation lawsuit filed by British cave diver Vernon Unsworth,
Musk had been sued earlier this year after his controversial ‘pedo guy’ tweet about one of the rescuers of the Thai boy football team who were trapped in a flooded cave in 2018.
During his testimony, Musk apologised directly to Unsworth, but insisted that that his “pedo guy” tweet had not been meant to be taken literally.
This lawsuit stems from the media attention after a football team of boys in Thailand became trapped in a flooded cave system during June and July 2018.
Musk took exception when one of the rescuers, British caver Unsworth ridiculed the mini-submarine that Musk had built and transported to the location, in an attempt to help free the trapped boys.
During a CNN interview Unsworth said the mini-submarine wasn’t used in the rescue, and that it was a “PR stunt” and that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk fired back and labelled the British cave rescuer as a “pedo guy” in a Tweet that has since been taken down.
Unsworth is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, despite Musk tweeting an apology over the matter.
But Musk did not help himself when repeated the claim in an email exchange when he was contacted by Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac.
“Stop defending child rapists,” Musk reportedly wrote to the journalist.
He had apparently intended the comments to be off the record, but did not agree that with Ryan Mac prior to emailing his response.
Now Musk was in court on Tuesday, and was the first to testify at the court.
According to the BBC, he said Unsworth had insulted him, so he had insulted him back.
In his court testimony, Musk said Unsworth’s comments were “wrong and insulting, and so I insulted him back”.
“It was an unprovoked attack on what was a good-natured attempt to help the kids,” Musk reportedly said.
He said he had thought Unsworth “was just some random creepy guy” and “unrelated to the rescue”, and that he had not expected the tweet to be taken literally.
“I assume he didn’t mean to sodomise me with a submarine… Just as I didn’t literally mean he was a paedophile,” Musk was quoted by the BBC as saying.
Musk then apologised to the cave diver in court, looking directly at him and saying: “I apologised in a tweet and again in the deposition, and I’ll say it again: I apologise to Mr Unsworth.”
Unsworth did not testify on Tuesday.
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said in his opening statements that the term “pedo guy” was a common insult in South Africa (Musk’s home country), meaning “creepy old man”, and described the messages as “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men”.
But the legal team for Unsworth disagreed, and his lawyer Lin Wood said that Musk had meant the “pedo guy” literally.
The lawyer cited a separate tweet in which Musk, after being questioned about the allegation by other users, said, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
That tweet was also later deleted.
Wood also cited Musk’s email to the Buzzfeed reporter as further evidence of his defamation.
And in a fresh twist, Elon Musk acknowledged paying $52,000 (£40,000) to a man who had posed as a private detective to dig up information on Unsworth after it became clear he would be sued.
Musk said that the investigator turned out to be a conman.
According to the BBC, US District Judge Stephen Wilson has denied the defence’s request to define Unsworth as a “public figure” – meaning lawyers for Unsworth do not have to prove Musk acted with “actual malice”, lowering the bar necessary to win the case.
Musk is due to resume testifying in his own defense on Wednesday
Musk has been in trouble before over his use of Twitter.
In August 2018 for example, he tweeted out of the blue, that he was considering taking Tesla private and that he had secured funding to do so.
Those tweets brought Musk to the attention of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and it sued Tesla and sought to ban Musk from acting as an officer or director of a publicly traded company.
In April 2019 the SEC reached a settlement of Musk’s use of Twitter.
Musk agreed to submit public statements about the company’s finances to vetting by its legal counsel before publishing them.
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