Elon Musk is known for his eccentric, sometimes controversial use of Twitter. Now, Tesla Inc’s chief executive may have to pay for using Twitter to brand someone a paedophile.
Musk is expected on Tuesday to go on trial for allegedly defaming Vernon Unsworth, a British cave explorer who gained international renown for playing a lead role in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in July 2018.
Unsworth says Musk falsely labelled him a ‘pedo guy’ on Twitter and should pay punitive and other damages for harming his reputation.
The trial before US District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles is scheduled to last about five days. Musk is expected to testify in his own defence.
While the case does not involve Tesla, Musk’s Twitter habits have long been under a microscope, with investors and regulators expressing concerns about the accuracy of his tweets.
With 29.8 million followers, Musk’s Twitter account is a major source of publicity for his Palo Alto, California-based electric car company, which does not advertise. The Unsworth case is among the last issues hanging over Musk from a turbulent 2018 and early 2019, when he regularly clashed with Wall Street and short sellers as Tesla struggled with production problems.
The episode began after Musk offered a mini-submarine from his SpaceX rocket company to help with the cave rescue.
Unsworth told CNN on July 13, 2018, three days after the rescue was completed, that the offer was a ‘PR stunt’ and that Musk could ‘stick his submarine where it hurts.’
Two days later, Musk lashed out at Unsworth in a series of tweets, including one which called him a ‘pedo guy.’ Musk later apologized for that comment. Unsworth has denied Musk’s accusations.
To win the defamation case, Unsworth needs to show that Musk was negligent, which does not require an intent to defame.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Trade & Commerce