Unsworth sued Musk in September for defamation and “worldwide damage” after the tycoon called him a pedophile and a child rapist during a Twitter tantrum sparked by the cave diver’s dismissal of his efforts to build a miniature submarine to rescue a Thai boys’ soccer team from an underwater cave.
Name calling, hyperbole, and, generally, juvenile behavior is not unusual; indeed, it is not only expected at times, but often encouraged.
Musk filed on Wednesday to have the $750,000 suit dismissed, arguing that no “reasonable reader” could have understood his tweets as anything other than “imaginative attacks,” “speculative insults” and “gratuitous barbs” provoked by Unsworth’s callous and totally uncalled-for dismissal of the mini-submarine (which, the complaint emphasizes, the Thai army thought was really, really cool). Sure, he called Unsworth a “child rapist” with a “child bride about 12 years old,” but such comments were clearly “over-the-top insults not driven by first-hand knowledge” and therefore protected by the First Amendment.
Musk had never heard of Unsworth until the diver panned his idea of building a mini-sub out of SpaceX rocket parts to rescue the boys, calling it a “PR stunt” and telling him to “stick his submarine where it hurts.” When a team the diver assembled actually rescued the trapped boys themselves, beating Musk to the act of heroism he so clearly craved, the ego-bruised billionaire lashed out at Unsworth – first on Twitter, then in a series of emails to BuzzFeed, where he tarred the British expat as a “child rapist” who was only in Thailand for the child sex trade.
While Musk’s lawyers argued that no one takes Twitter seriously – it’s “infamous for invective and hyperbole” and the slander was a mere “schoolyard spat on social media” – Unsworth’s lawyer, Lin Wood, argued that this position “would effectively prevent an individual from seeking redress for any and all false and defamatory attacks on reputation published on the internet.”
Investor criticism, as usual, forced Musk’s hand and he deleted the offending tweets a few days later with a less-than-heartfelt apology, later telling the BuzzFeed reporter he hoped the cave-diver “would f***ing sue him.”
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