When Elon Musk, who was not instrumental in the rescue of 12 children from an underwater cave, accused cave diver Vern Unsworth, who was instrumental in the rescue of said children, of being a pedophile on Twitter, Musk’s defense boiled down to this: “Well, if he’s not a pedophile, why doesn’t he sue me?” Unsworth took him up on that, filing a defamation suit against Musk for $75,000 in California in September.
Now, seeking to dismiss the suit, Musk’s lawyers made an interesting claim in a court filing yesterday — essentially, everything on Twitter is “opinion, not fact,” and therefore nothing Musk could write on the platform could be taken seriously. Musk’s statements were “just imaginative attacks; even if offensive, such speculative insults are by their nature opinion and protected by the First Amendment,” according to the motion.
The whole motion is a hoot to read, if only for the high dudgeon Musk’s lawyers’ affect throughout, casting the CEO of a billion-dollar company as a poor, unwitting victim of a mean British cave diver. Musk’s lawyers take pains to show that Musk had sacrificed a lot to get his (unused) child submarine ready:
Dozens of engineers, and Musk himself, doubled down on their work, sacrificing their familial obligations and cancelling vacations, so that they could help the cave rescue efforts.
Furthermore, in that common schoolyard refrain, it was Unsworth who started all:
Yet, Plaintiff Vernon Unsworth decided to gratuitously attack them and insult their contributions. Unsworth appeared on CNN and, for reasons unknown, decided to pick a fight with Musk in spectacularly public fashion.
Musk, left with no other recourse, turned to the only option available to him: Twitter:
Shocked by Unsworth’s indefensible and baseless attacks, Musk answered to defend himself and the efforts of SpaceX, Tesla, and the Boring Company employees who had given up their days and nights to help find a solution. Musk took to Twitter — a social networking website infamous for invective and hyperbole — to respond. […] Referencing Thailand’s documented reputation, Musk said that Unsworth was “sus” for being a“British expat guy who lives in Thailand.” Later, referring back to these suspicions, Musk dubbed Unsworth “pedo guy.”
So Musk was essentially forced to call Unsworth a pedophile in order to defend the honor of himself and all his employees. I am sure all the engineers who worked on the project were thankful for their boss’s support.
The real heart of Musk’s defense, and the reason why his legal team is asking for the dismissal of the case, is Musk could only have defamed Unsworth if he somehow possesed actual knowledge that Unsworth was, indeed, a pedophile:
Here, the reasonable reader would not have believed that Musk—without having ever met Unsworth, in the midst of a schoolyard spat on social media, and from 8,000 miles afar — was conveying that he was in possession of private knowledge that Unsworth was sexually attracted to children or engaged in sex acts with children.
Which makes it even stranger that the motion then mentions that Musk actually did just that in an email to a BuzzFeed reporter:
Musk did not respond publicly. Instead, he sent an “[o]ff the record” email responding to BuzzFeed’s inquiry and chewing out the journalist. As part of his insults, Musk included a hyperlink to a Google search of “Chiang Rai child trafficking.” Musk theorized that Chiang Rai “isn’t where you go for caves, it’s where you go for something else.” Culminating this long wind up, Musk caricatured Unsworth as having a “child bride who was about 12 years old.” Musk closed by answering Unsworth’s lawyer’s threat: “I hope he fucking sues me.”
Now, to be fair, this was in an email that Musk said was “off the record,” but which BuzzFeed never agreed to keep off the record, and they subsequently published Musk’s email. And the email does sound like the words of a man who believed he was in “possession of private knowledge that Unsworth was sexually attracted to children.”
Again, as far as legal motions go, it’s a pretty fun read. Musk’s team also trots out that Musk used colloquialisms like “no problemo,” swore, and his tweets had typos, all of which meant that his tweets claiming Unsworth was a pedophile could not be defamatory.
By that logic, if I were to tweet, say, “Elon Mush, a man known to hunt people for sport, is an unmedicated goddamn psycho in the midst of a slow-motion breakdown who most recently bawled like a baby on 60 Minutes after the SEC said ‘no can do’ to him being extremely online all the time,” that would be fair game. Because, after all, I used colloquialisms, cursed, made some typos, and it’s all just Twitter, so nothing means anything.