Elon Musk argues comments on Twitter are protected speech in request to dismiss ‘pedo guy’ lawsuit

Elon Musk has filed a motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed against him by the British cave rescuer who sued the billionaire entrepreneur for calling him a pedophile.

Musk’s motion presents numerous reasons to dismiss the defamation lawsuit, all of which come back to a two main points: Twitter is “infamous for invective and hyperbole,” and therefore should not be considered fact and these “imaginative attacks,” even if offensive, “are by their nature opinion and protected by the First Amendment.” 

Musk’s lawyers ask a single question in the request: “Accepting Unsworth’s well-pleaded allegations as true, would a reasonable reader believe that Musk’s statements were supported by objective facts or were instead “nonactionable opinion?”

The list of arguments laid out in the motion to dismiss are:

  1. Unsworth must prove that the reasonable reader would believe Musk possessed private facts implicating Unsworth as a pedophile.
  2. In context, Musk’s statements cannot reasonably be read as asserting underlying knowledge that Unsworth was a pedophile
  3. Statements on unmoderated Internet forums are presumptively opinion.
  4. Musk’s underlying argument is that “his over-the-top insults are not statements of fact.”
  5. Musk disclosed the basis for his personal opinion: Thailand’s documented problems with sex tourism
  6. Musk’s over-the-top insults are not statements of fact
  7. Musk’s colloquial statements are not reasonably interpreted as statements of facts
  8. Musk’s expressions of uncertainty show that his statements did not have a concrete factual foundation and were therefore opinion
  9. Readers did not interpret Musk’s statements as factual assertions

Whether these arguments will be enough to convince a judge to dismiss the lawsuit is unclear. However, it raises a different question. If the argument is to be believed, it would suggest that other claims and promises Musk puts on Twitter shouldn’t be trusted as fact either.

The whole “pedo guy” episode began over the summer after Musk and employees at his companies, SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company, became involved in an effort to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system located in Northern Thailand after flooding trapped the group for weeks. Musk’s team developed and then sent  mini submarine built out of rocket parts that he thought could help.

The team of divers who eventually rescued every person trapped in the cave didn’t use the mini-submarine, dubbed by Musk’s people as “Wild Boar.”

Unsworth, a British ex-pat who lives in Thailand, helped plan the rescue operation and recruited other cave diving experts. The fight began after Unsworth gave an interview on CNN International, in which he called the mini submarine a “PR stunt,” that it “had absolutely no chance of working” and that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Musk subsequently lashed out on Twitter and insinuated that Unsworth was a pedophile. He later deleted the offending tweet and tried to backpedal — even offering an apology of sorts on Twitter. And it could have all ended there. But then Musk dug it all up again during a debate with ex-TechCrunch journalist Drew Olanoff — once again on Twitter. Olanoff had brought up the “pedo guy” attack as an example of Musk telling untruths.

Unsworth filed a lawsuit September in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Musk for defamation. The lawsuit alleges that between July 15 and August 30, Musk periodically used Twitter and emails to the media to publish false and defamatory accusations against Unsworth, including accusations of pedophilia and child rape.

Read the entire motion here.