The lawyers of blunt-smoking CEO Elon Musk are trying to argue that calling a Thai cave diver a “pedo” and a “child rapist” should be protected by the First Amendment.
The situation all started when Musk offered to make a mini-submarine to save a boys soccer team trapped in a sunken cave in northern Thailand in July. In the process of touting his plan, Musk made some disparaging comments — like accusations of child abuse — about the guy who ultimately rescued the kids, Vernon Unsworth.
Unsworth sued in September for “worldwide damage,” to the tune of $750,000. And on Wednesday, Musk’s lawyers filed to have the suit dismissed.
"Musk’s statements were thus necessarily just imaginative attacks," Musk’s lawyers said. "Even if offensive, such speculative insults are by their nature opinion and protected by the First Amendment."
Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, announced his plan to build a mini-submarine out of a SpaceX rocket part to save the team.
“Primary path is basically a tiny, kid-size submarine using the liquid oxygen transfer tube of Falcon rocket as hull,” Musk tweeted. “Light enough to be carried by 2 divers, small enough to get through narrow gaps. Extremely robust.”
Later in July, Unsworth successfully rescued the children, sans mini-submarine. He called Musk’s efforts a “PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working,” in a CNN interview. He added that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
That’s when Musk called the diver a pedophile to his more than 22 million followers, though he’s since deleted the tweet.
Musk later also sent a series of emails to BuzzFeed News in which he accused Unsworth of being a “child rapist” who took a child bride. He also said he would make a video of the mini-submarine to prove Unsworth wrong.
Though Musk apologized a few days later amid criticism from his investors, he did not disavow the claims. In fact, Musk said he hoped Unsworth "would fucking sue him" this September, and Unsworth did.
In a request to dismiss the lawsuit, Musk’s lawyers said no one would take his claims seriously and his insults were part of a "schoolyard spat on social media," rather than statements of fact. They also argued Twitter is a social network “infamous for invective and hyperbole.”
Lin Wood, a lawyer representing Unsworth, told CNBC in a statement Thursday that his team rejects Musk’s argument that his slander was protected speech.
“I entirely reject Mr. Musk’s frivolous contention that all statements published on Twitter or other social media are protected speech,” Wood said. “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.”
Cover image: Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (Robyn Beck/Pool Photo via AP)