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.


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”