Back in July, we wondered whether Elon Musk would get sued for calling a British man who assisted in rescuing trapped children from a cave in Thailand “pedo guy.” While Musk initially walked back his accusation, he’s done anything but since then.
“I f***ing hope he sues me,” Musk wrote in a series of emails to Buzzfeed News, adding, “I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you f***ing a**hole.” And now that Musk has doubled down on his assertion, that man, Vernon Unsworth, has filed that lawsuit, seeking at least $75,000 in damages.
Allegations and Denials
That wasn’t everything Musk said to Buzzfeed:
He’s an old, single white guy from England who has been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 or 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time. There’s only one reason people go to Pattaya Beach. It isn’t where you go for caves, but it is where you’d go for something else. Chiang Rai is renowned for child sex-trafficking.
Those are fairly specific allegations, all of which Unsworth has denied. According to Ars Technica, Unsworth contends he first went to Thailand in 2011, has never been to Pattaya Beach, met his Thai wife when she was in her 30s, and, most essentially, has never been involved in child sex-trafficking.
Lies and Liability
While many defamation claims are difficult to prove, certain false accusations, especially those involving criminal behavior or sexual misconduct, amount to defamation per se, meaning the statements are presumed to be harmful and don’t require the plaintiff to prove damages. In cases involving public figures, California defamation law does require the speaker of the allegedly defamatory statement acted with actual malice (“that state of mind arising from hatred or ill will toward the plaintiff”), with the knowledge that the statements are false, or actions that show a reckless disregard for their falsity. And given Musk’s tone, that may not be that difficult.
And this is far from the first time Musk’s mouth has gotten himself and his companies in trouble. Today, reports surfaced that Tesla faced a criminal probe by the U.S. Justice Department over Musk’s Twitter claim that he had secured financing to take the electric-car maker private … “at $420.”