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Elon Musk seeks dismissal of defamation suit spurred by ‘pedo guy’ tweet

December 27, 2018

Attorneys for Elon Musk on Wednesday asked a U.S. federal court judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against the billionaire business magnate by Vernon Unsworth, a British cave diver he labeled “pedo guy” during a heated Twitter rant.

“In context, Musk’s statements cannot reasonably be read as asserting underlying knowledge that Unsworth was a pedophile,” lawyers for the Space-X and Tesla founder wrote in a 24-page motion to dismiss filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

“Insults receive bright-line protection under the First Amendment,” lawyer John C. Hueston wrote on behalf of Mr. Musk. “Therefore ‘vigorous epithets’ and ‘lusty and imaginative expressions of contempt’ cannot form the basis of a defamation claim.”

Mr. Unsworth, 63, was labeled “pedo guy” by Mr. Musk in July 2018 after he criticized the South African-born inventor and entrepreneur’s efforts to rescue a teenage soccer team from a cave in Thailand.

“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves. Only people in sight were the Thai navy/army guys, who were great,” Mr. Musk responded to the criticism on Twitter at the time.

“I challenge this dude to show final rescue video,” Mr. Musk tweeted. “You know what, don’t bother showing the video. We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”

Mr. Musk, 47, initially doubled down on the allegation, tweeting “bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.” He subsequently deleted the posts, however, albeit not without defending his comments in an email to a BuzzFeed reporter.

“He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling 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,” Mr. Musk told the website. “I [expletive] hope he sues me.”

Lawyers for Mr. Unsworth followed through two months after the dispute and filed a lawsuit seeking at least $75,000 in compensatory damages.

“I entirely reject Mr. Musk’s frivolous contention that all statements published on Twitter or other social media are protected speech,” Mr. Unsworth’s attorney, Lin Wood, said in a statement to CNBC issued in response to the motion to dismiss.

“I am confident the trial court will likewise reject this fanciful position which if adopted, would effectively prevent an individual from seeking redress for any and all false and defamatory attacks on reputation published on the Internet,” Mr. Wood added.

Mr. Musk’s verbal attacks targeting Mr. Unsworth were hardly the only social media posts that landed him in hot water during 2018. Mr. Musk separately drew scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission for tweeting over the summer about possible taking Tesla private. He ultimately settled fraud charges brought by the SEC by agreeing to pay millions of dollars and penalties over the tweet, in addition to stepping down as Tesla’s chairman.

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