UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has obtained a statement from Vern Unsworth's lawyer, who says that he "entirely rejects Mr. Musk's frivolous contention that all statements published on Twitter or other social media are protected speech" and that he is "confident the trial court will likewise reject this fanciful position".
THREAD: We got a statement from Vern Unsworth's lawyer, responding to @elonmusk legal claim that "pedo guy" insult couldn't have been defamatory because it's on Twitter. https://t.co/0hbBQASi6s pic.twitter.com/JnDK0NP7d0— Rolfe Winkler (@RolfeWinkler) December 27, 2018
When Elon Musk called British cave diving hero Vern Unsworth "pedo guy" in response to Unsworth's criticism of Musk's idea for rescuing 12 teenagers trapped in a Thai cave, many people were stunned by the accusation but eventually just brushed it off.
It was when Musk doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on his claims, further insulting Unsworth and referring to him as a "child rapist" that people – including Unsworth's lawyers – started to pay attention. There were even some whispers and murmurs at the time that Musk may have flexed his power and resources to somehow drum up evidence to support his accusations based on Unsworth's past.
But instead it appears to simply be one more Elon Musk claim that has fallen flat on its face. A motion to dismiss filed by Musk in the United States District Court Central District of California now seems to confirm that Musk was just simply making things up. It offers no evidence for his claims about Unsworth, but rather offers 25 pages of largely hollow rhetoric as to why his statements are not actionable.
In the motion filed early this morning and noted by BuzzFeed author Ryan Mac (whom Musk referred to as a "fucking asshole" in an e-mail about Unsworth) Musk claims his statements should be dismissed because his insults "are not statements of fact".
With Musk's lawyers themselves seemingly confirming that Musk's statements had no basis in fact, the motion then goes on to try and hide behind Twitter, which his motion refers to as "a social networking website infamous for invective and hyperbole". Yes, he is trying to hide behind the same Twitter that landed Musk as the target of a fraud lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission after he tweeted that he had $420 per share in "funding secured" when he didn't.
We wonder if Jack Dorsey is going to get around to doling out the suspension that many say Musk deserves based on not only admitting that he was making things up when he called someone a pedophile, but also now for trying to throw Twitter under the bus as a defense.
Musk also positions himself as trying to argue that his statements were non-actionable opinion. His lawsuit argues that the reasonable reader would have never believed that Musk was "in possession of private knowledge that Unsworth was sexually attracted to children or engaged in sex acts with children".
Perhaps this may have been true the first time Musk made the allegation, but as a reminder, the subsequent times he went after Unsworth, Musk very clearly reiterated that he was a "child rapist" who had moved to Thailand in order to take a child bride "who was about 12 years old at the time". As a reminder, Musk wrote:
“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole,” Musk wrote in the first message. “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.”
Musk's defense team also tried to make the point that since he was using curse words, it was proof that he was being informal in his speech.
It should be interesting to see where the rest of this case goes given the fact that Musk basically just admitted that he doesn’t have any evidence to support his claims. Though we do not offer legal opinions, we can’t see any judge throwing out what now obviously seems to be a meritorious case.
And if Musk's decision to pay a lawyer in the ballpark of $1000 an hour to draft such a ridiculous motion makes more financial sense to him than simply trying to settle with Unsworth, it’ll just be one more piece of confirmation regarding many people's suspicions about his ability to manage capital.
You can read the entire motion to dismiss here.