Jury sides with Elon Musk in “pedo guy” defamation case

Elon Musk leaves a Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday December 3, 2019.

Enlarge / Elon Musk leaves a Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday December 3, 2019.
Apu Gomes/Getty Images

A Los Angeles federal jury has found Elon Musk not liable for defamation in a lawsuit brought by British caver Vernon Unsworth. Musk dubbed Unsworth a “pedo guy” in a tweet last year, but argued in court that he meant this as a generic insult—not as an accusation that Unsworth was a pedophile.

“My faith in humanity is restored,” Musk reportedly said on his way out of court.

Musk and Unsworth have been trading insults since last July, when Unsworth mocked a miniature submarine SpaceX engineers created to help rescue a dozen boys trapped in a cave in Thailand (it didn’t arrive in time to be useful). In an interview with CNN, Unsworth said that Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Musk responded with a tweet labeling Unsworth a “pedo guy” and vowing to prove that the submarine would have been able to squeeze through the narrowest passages in the cave.

A month later, Musk continued to needle Unsworth. “You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me?” he tweeted in August 2018.

Then Unsworth did sue him. The trial started on Tuesday with testimony from Musk.

Unsworth’s comments were “an unprovoked attack on what was a good-natured attempt to help the kids,” Musk told the court. “It was wrong and insulting, and so I insulted him back.”

“I knew he didn’t literally mean to sodomize me with a submarine, just as I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile,” Musk said.

Unsworth’s lawyers argued that many people took Musk’s words literally, causing Unsworth “shame, mortification, worry, and distress.”

But the jury found Musk’s arguments more convincing. Or perhaps they simply didn’t view the feud as serious enough to warrant cash damages.

“It was very clear,” one juror said, according to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac. “I don’t want to have anything to do with this,” another added.

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