Hand of man typing text on mobile smartphone.

Tesla boss, Elon Musk, has landed himself in hot water in respect of a Tweet that he posted about a British diving specialist who was involved in the Thai cave rescue last year. 

Defamation claim

Mr Musk is due to testify in Court this week in an attempt to defend the defamation proceedings that have been brought against him by the diver. The defamation claim was issued in the State of Los Angeles, which is where Mr Musk is primarily based.

The Tweet

The key focus of the proceedings is a Tweet in which Mr Musk described the diver as “pedo guy”. The diver is claiming that the Tweet was defamatory and is seeking compensation in respect of the reputational damage caused by the Tweet. 

Mr Musk has argued that his Tweet should not be taken literally and he never intended to imply that the diver was actually a paedophile. As part of the trial, Mr Musk’s lawyer has explained to the Court that the term “pedo guy” was a common insult in South Africa, where the billionaire grew up. It remains to be seen whether these arguments will be accepted by the jury. 

The decision of the jury

The trial is expected to continue throughout the week with evidence being provided by the diver and other witnesses.  The jury will need to consider whether the Tweet meets the criteria for a “defamatory statement” under LA law and if so, whether the diver’s reputation has been harmed as a result of Mr Musk’s actions. 

It will be interesting to see how this case is dealt with by the US based Court. Historically, it has been harder to bring a defamation claim in the US compared to the UK due to the rights set out in the First Amendment. However, regardless of which jurisdiction you are in, this case illustrates the importance of being careful about what you Tweet. Even if the Tweet is subsequently deleted, it can still give rise to a defamation claim and the risk that you will be ordered to pay substantial damages.