A British cave diving expert who helped save the young Thai football team that got trapped in caves this summer is preparing a legal action against Elon Musk for making “false and defamatory statements”, TechCrunch has confirmed.
BuzzFeed reported the development earlier, after obtaining a letter sent to Musk’s home on August 6 by a firm representing the diver, Vernon Unsworth.
The background here is that in a highly offensive and extremely bizarre episode last month — even for the famously ‘loose cannon online’ Musk — the Tesla and SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to attack Unsworth, branding him a “pedo guy”.
The bizarre attack came after Unsworth had given a critical interview to the media saying the mini sub which Musk had designed and brought to Thailand “had absolutely no chance of working”. Unsworth ended an interview segment by suggesting Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts” — a tongue-in-cheek phrase which apparently triggered Musk’s Twitter outburst.
Facing a backlash over his comments about a man who had successfully helped rescue the boys, Musk subsequently deleted the offensive tweets and quasi-apologized for slurring Unsworth in a further set of tweets, on July 18, though these were only posted within a Twitter thread, rather than being broadcast to his ~22.4M Twitter followers.
At the time Musk said Unsworth’s comment had angered him, and that had made him lash out, but he also added: “Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”
The public element of the episode might have ended there but earlier this week Musk dredged it all up again by repeating his offensive insinuation against Unsworth during a debate with ex-TechCrunch journalist Drew Olanoff — who had brought up the “pedo guy” attack as an example of Musk himself telling untruths.
Yet instead of reiterating his apology to Unsworth, Musk doubled down on his original offensive attack — writing: “You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services.”
To which Olanoff replied: “What I think is especially strange here is that you’re wondering why he hasn’t sued you while the rest of us are wondering why you did something so egregious that he could sue you for in the first place.”
We contacted the law firm for confirmation that it is representing Mr Unsworth in a defamation suit against Musk. Partner Lin Wood was unavailable to speak about the matter when we called but he confirmed via email that the firm is representing Unsworth in a defamation suit against Musk, and that it is preparing a legal action.
In the letter sent by the firm to Musk’s home earlier this month Wood informs Musk he has been retained by Unsworth on account of the defamatory statements made by Musk on Twitter alleging that he is a pedophile.
Wood also writes that he is preparing a civil complaint of libel and invites Musk to contact him “in an attempt to avoid litigation and to see the public record corrected”.
It’s not clear whether or not Musk had seen the letter at the time of his tweets to Olanoff.
We’ve reached out to Musk (via Twitter) for comment on the legal action and to ask whether he will be withdrawing his repeat allegation against Unsworth. We’ll update this story with any response.
The Tesla CEO’s erratic behavior online has caused other high profile headaches for his companies in recent weeks, after he tweeted about taking Tesla private — triggering wild swings in the stock price and scrutiny (and potential problems) from the Securities and Exchange Commission, only for the idea to be nixed weeks later.
The associated risks for shareholders in a public company whose CEO uses Twitter as a weapon to indulge personal spats and feuds — and to spitball major business decisions — without, apparently, any thought for the legal and reputational consequences for him or his companies, are hard to quantify but equally difficult to deny.