Tesla CEO Elon Musk is set to head to trial later this year over a series of bad tweets in which he described a diver as “pedo guy” after the man criticised his plan for saving a young soccer team trapped in a cave system in Thailand.
The news comes after Vernon Unsworth — who helped in the rescue effort to free the boys from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system last winter — filed a defamation suit in September over Musk’s repeated claims that the diver was a paedophile. In December, lawyers for Musk filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that “over-the-top insults are not statements of fact”.
That motion was denied by US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, The Verge reported today, in part because of the way that Musk communicated the assertion, both on Twitter as well as in emails to BuzzFeed News.
Wilson determined that given “the totality of the circumstances — including the general context of Defendant’s statements, the specific context of the statements, and the statements’ susceptibility of being proved true or false — a reasonable factfinder could easily conclude that Defendant’s statements, as pleaded in the Complaint, implied assertions of objective fact”.
A spokesperson for Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.
This fiasco began last winter after Musk became involved in the harrowing effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave system in Thailand. Unsworth called Musk’s apparent involvement with the effort a “PR stunt” and claimed the billionaire’s divisive miniature submarine concept had “absolutely no chance of working”.
In a bizarre and seemingly baseless string of since-deleted tweets, Musk then accused the diver of being a paedophile — a claim he would continue to double down on over the course of months.
“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves,” he tweeted in July. In a follow-up tweet, Musk referred to Unsworth as “pedo guy” before later tweeting: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
In a series of emails to BuzzFeed News in September, Musk told the outlet to “call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole”.
“He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been travelling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time,” Musk continued.
Lawyers for Unsworth have strongly denied all of the allegations, and Musk himself has claimed his “words were spoken in anger” following the diver’s criticism.
A trial is scheduled for October 22.