It took a federal jury in Los Angeles less than an hour to throw out a $190 million defamation case against Elon Musk. Calling someone a “pedo guy” to an audience of millions of Twitter followers isn’t an accusation, the jury decided, because words are tricky little devils that can mean a lot of things and slinging nastiness on the internet, no matter how accusatory, doesn’t necessarily constitute defamation.
So if, for instance, I say Musk is a sloppy bitch of a homicidal sociopath, I don’t mean for you to take that literally. It’s confusing, I know, but you see I’m using its other, less common definition, which simply means “a person I find disagreeable and would not share my ice cream with.” I’m pretty sure it comes from Old English.
Friday’s verdict was handed down after a four-day trial that included six hours of testimony from the Tesla and SpaceX CEO. While exiting the courtroom, Musk said of the verdict, “My faith in humanity is restored,” per a Reuters report.
As with most incidents involving the temperamental billionaire, this long-running lawsuit all started with a bad tweet. Last year, Musk threw what can only be described as a tantrum on Twitter after British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth publically mocked the CEO’s part in a rescue effort to retrieve 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach who had become trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex. In a CNN interview, he described the miniature submarine Musk personally delivered to the crew (despite literally no one asking for it) as completely impractical and nothing more than a publicity stunt, adding that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
To which Musk responded with the same online poise and consideration that’s earned him millions in SEC fines: by berating Unsworth as a suspicious “pedo guy” in a series of now-deleted Tweets. According to Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, Musk’s apparent suggestions that he was a pedophile “dropped a nuclear bomb” on his client’s reputation and job prospects, prompting him to go “toe to toe with a billionaire bully” in what’s become one of the first major defamation suits by a private citizen to go to trial over tweets, according to a Reuters report.
Ultimately, a jury rejected the $190 million claim, siding with Musk’s legal team. Led by attorney Alex Spiro, Musk’s lawyers argued that “pedo guy” was slang for “creepy old guy” and that while Musk had thrown some serious shade, saying mean things about someone online shouldn’t be misconstrued as a literal accusation.
“In arguments you insult people,” Spiro said per Reuters. “There is no bomb. No bomb went off.”
To which I would just like to add that, no, insults are not inherent to arguments when each side has healthy communication skills. Though, as we’ve seen time and time again from his Twitter account, that is definitely not a skill in Musk’s wheelhouse.