Tesla boss Elon Musk wins defamation trial sparked by ‘pedo guy’ tweet

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. leaves the US District Court through in Los Angeles on Dec. 3, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (apu Gomes/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Tesla boss Elon Musk wins defamation trial sparked by ‘pedo guy’ tweet

  • Unanimous verdict by a jury returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial
  • Outside the courthouse, British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth said he was resigned to his defeat

LOS ANGELES: Tesla Inc. boss Elon Musk emerged victorious on Friday from a defamation trial as a federal court jury swiftly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
The unanimous verdict by a jury of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial. The case has been closely watched by legal experts because it is believed to be the first major defamation lawsuit by a private individual to go to trial over tweets.
The outcome was a triumph for Musk, whose mercurial behavior in a number of instances last year came under close scrutiny from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla, his Silicon Valley-based electric car manufacturer.
L. Lin Wood, a high-profile trial lawyer who led the legal team for the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth, said the jury’s decision signals a higher legal threshold for challenging libelous material on social media.
“This verdict puts everyone’s reputation at risk,” Wood told reporters after the verdict was announced.
Musk, 48, who had testified during the first two days of the trial in his own defense and returned to court on Friday to hear closing arguments, exited the courtroom after the verdict and said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”
Outside the courthouse, Unsworth, 64, said he was resigned to his defeat. “I accept the jury’s verdict, take it on the chin and get on with my life.”
Wood said his client went “toe to toe with a billionaire bully,” echoing a phrase from his summation earlier in court, and indicated to reporters that an appeal was doubtful.
“It’s not the verdict we wanted. But it’s the end of the road and we now close this chapter,” Wood said.
He said he nevertheless saw the lawsuit as meaningful in helping erase the stain he said Unsworth’s reputation suffered.
During the course of the trial, Musk testified under oath that his use of the term “pedo guy” — slang for pedophile — was never meant to be taken literally, and he apologized to Unsworth for the comment from the witness stand.

Submarine squabble
The case stems from a public quarrel between Musk and Unsworth, a British diver who lives part-time in Thailand and gained fame for his leading role in coordinating the successful rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in that country in July 2018.
Unsworth had chided Musk in a CNN interview for delivering a mini-submarine, which was never used, to the site of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system. Unsworth called Musk’s intervention a “P.R.” stunt and said the high-tech entrepreneur should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”




British cave diver Vernon Unsworth (C) talks to reporters on Dec. 6, 2019 with his lawyers after a US District Court jury in Los Angeles found Tesla Inc chief executive Elon Musk not liable for damages for calling Unsworth a "pedo guy" in one of a series of tweets. (REUTERS/David McNew)

Musk responded two days later on Twitter with three posts that became the basis of the defamation case. The first questioned Unsworth’s role in the rescue, while the second said, “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
The third tweet, in reply to a follower who asked Musk about the second tweet, said, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
Wood said during his summation that Musk’s tweets were akin to a “nuclear bomb” that would overshadow Unsworth’s relationships and job prospects for years to come and urged jurors to teach the Tesla chief executive and SpaceX founder a lesson by awarding Unsworth $190 million, including $150 million in punitive damages.
Two days earlier, under questioning on the witness stand, Musk had estimated his net worth at $20 billion.
But the jury was apparently swayed by the arguments put forth by Musk’s attorney, Alex Spiro, who said the tweets in question amounted to an off-hand insult in the midst of an argument, which no one could be expected to take seriously.
“In arguments you insult people,” he said. “No bomb went off.”
Spiro also said Unsworth failed to demonstrate he suffered any harm from Musk’s comments.
US District Judge Stephen Wilson had said the case hinged on whether a reasonable person would take Musk’s Twitter statements to mean he was actually calling Unsworth a pedophile.
To win, Unsworth needed to show that Musk was negligent in publishing a falsehood that clearly identified the plaintiff and caused him harm. “Actual malice” on Musk’s part, a high standard in defamation cases, did not need to be proven since the judge deemed Unsworth a private individual, not a public figure.
The trial revived discussion of Musk’s erratic behavior in 2018, when he used Twitter to float a leveraged buyout proposal for Tesla that was scuttled, ultimately paying $20 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint.
For most of 2019, Musk, who has nearly 30 million Twitter followers, has largely kept his public comments focused on Tesla’s new models and improved profitability and on the technical progress of his aerospace company, SpaceX.


TikTok launches new ad tools to help small businesses in MENA region

Updated 7 min 39 sec ago

TikTok launches new ad tools to help small businesses in MENA region

Video app TikTok has launched new advertising options it says will help small and mid-size businesses (SMB) in the Middle East grow their brand by tapping into the creativity of the TikTok community.

At a time when small businesses in particular have been severely affected by the COVID-19, TikTok is also introducing a $100 million “Back-to-Business” advertising credit program to help companies rebuild.

TIKTok bosses said the developments mark a significant milestone in the evolution of TikTok For Business, including the introduction of self-serve tools designed to support advertisers throughout the campaign-creation process.

“TikTok’s immersive, short-form videos give businesses a platform to participate and engage with a community known for its creativity, ingenuity, and joy,” said Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s vice president of global business solutions.

“As our marketing solutions scale and evolve, we’re continuously building for the future and aiming to meet the growing needs of our partners. We’re excited to continue supporting our community by providing the tools and resources for SMB owners to navigate these challenging times.”

Shant Oknayan, TikTok parent company ByteDance’s general manager of global business solutions in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey said: “The MENA region is a big focus for TikTok’s efforts in the (SMB) space. SMBs play a vital role in communities across the region and we are working very hard to ensure that those businesses can leverage the power of the platform to further build brands in a new, authentic and engaging way.

“Brands will also have the flexibility to expand their reach beyond the current media ecosystem and tap into those consumers and opinion leaders that cannot be reached on other platforms.”

The new TikTok advertising tools include: a suite of creative tools and resources such as TikTok AdStudio, which help brands present the most authentic version of their brand; TikTok Ads Manager, which accommodates flexible budgets by allowing businesses to adjust their spending at any time; intelligent targeting of new audiences; and business accounts with additional tools for performance analysis and engagement.