Elon Musk did not defame a British diver who rescued a Thai youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave last year when he suggested that he was a pedophile in a series of tweets, Los Angeles jurors concluded on Friday.
The diver, Vernon Unsworth, sued Musk in July 2018 for defamation over the tech billionaire’s tweet calling him a “pedo guy.” Musk blasted out the tweet during an ongoing dispute about the best way to rescue a dozen soccer players and their coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave last year.
The eight-person jury reached a verdict after one hour of deliberation, culminating a four-day trial in U.S. District Court and what legal experts have called the largest defamation lawsuit brought to trial over a tweet.
As he exited the courtroom, Musk told reporters, “My faith in humanity is restored.”
During his closing arguments, Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, called the Tesla and SpaceX CEO a “liar” and “billionaire bully,” saying “an insult is not spontaneous.”
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, argued Unsworth started the feud when he belittled the mini-submarine the entrepreneur had built for the Thai rescue mission last year on CNN—“hurting” him and pushing him to retaliate online. Spiro, however, noted that while his client “didn’t do what his mother told him to do… he didn’t do anything unlawful.”
Musk defended himself during the first two days of trial, testifying that his Twitter taunt is a “common insult” that was a reaction to an “unprovoked” snub on national television.
“He was rude and insulting and I insulted him back,” Musk said, but later apologized for “regrettably” lashing out at Unsworth on his Twitter account, which reaches 22 million followers. He insisted that when he wrote “pedo guy,” he meant “creepy old man.”
Musk added: “If you add “guy” to something, it makes it less serious. It is more obviously an insult. Obviously it’s flippant and no one interpreted that as meaning pedophilia.”
Unsworth, 64, declined to apologize to Musk on Thursday for the CNN interview on July 13, 2018, in which he said Musk’s offer to send a mini-submarine to Thailand to aid in the rescue was a “PR stunt” and the wealthy entrepreneur could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
“I’m not sure how I need to apologize. It was my opinion at the time, and I stand by that opinion,” Unsworth said, stating his insult was “not to Mr. Musk personally.” “My opinion as I sit here, it was a PR stunt.”
Although he later deleted the tweets, Musk told jurors he felt comfortable making the digs online, where social-media users “can assert fact, fiction, or anything that comes to mind.
“I assume he literally didn’t mean to sodomize me with a submarine. I literally didn’t mean he was a pedophile,” Musk told jurors.
Unsworth testified the tweets and accusations harmed his reputation and left him feeling “humiliated” and “ashamed.” Taylor Wilson, Unsworth’s lawyer, argued his client was shrouded in “shame” after Musk “did not retract his worldwide accusation on Twitter” and made it impossible for Unsworth to rejoice in the successful Thai cave rescue mission, which he assisted with after exploring that cave system for six years.
“It hurts to talk about it,” Unsworth said on Friday. “Disgusting. I find it hard to read the word.”