LOS ANGELES (CN) – Billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked to answer for his Twitter habits on the witness stand Tuesday as part of a defamation lawsuit over a series of tweets in which he called a British cave expert a “pedo guy” on the social media platform.
Musk apologized from the witness stand and said his comment was not meant to be taken literally.
“It’s not an obscure reference and is quite common in the English-speaking world,” Musk said of the phrase during his nearly four hours on the witness stand Tuesday.
His attorney said the matter is an argument between two men even though Musk had 22.5 million Twitter followers at the time.
British cave diver Vernon Unsworth sued Musk in Los Angeles federal court over the series of tweets Musk wrote shortly after 12 boys and their coach were rescued from a cave in Thailand last July with the help of Unsworth and other foreign rescuers and the Thai navy SEAL team.
Musk offered his support with engineers from his company SpaceX, who designed a mini-sub or pod to be used in the rescue effort because a monsoon was forecast to bring more water to the region and one Thai Navy SEAL died during the rescue operation.
All the boys and their coach were rescued and Unsworth was asked during a CNN interview what he thought of Musk’s mini-sub.
“(Musk) can stick his submarine somewhere where it hurts,” Unsworth said in the video played in the courtroom. Unsworth called Musk’s involvement a PR stunt.
Musk testified that in a series of tweets on July 15, 2018, he said he didn’t know who Unsworth was, and claimed it was the Thai Navy and other emergency responders who rescued the boys. He ended his tweets with, “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
The phrase was meant to convey that Unsworth is a creepy guy, said Musk, adding he meant the comment figuratively.
“Much in the way that he did not mean I would physically sodomize myself with a submarine,” Musk testified.
When a Twitter user wrote that Musk called Unsworth a pedophile, Musk replied, “Bet you a signed dollar it’s true.”
Musk read several of his tweets from the witness stand on Tuesday, including one in which he called Unsworth suspicious. Unsworth’s attorney Lin Wood asked if Musk searched for Unsworth online and what he meant by suspicious.
“He is a creepy old guy in Thailand,” Musk said. “Who knows what he’s doing there. I literally mean what’s he doing there,” Musk said about his mindset at the time when he tweeted the “pedo guy” comment.
Musk’s attorney Alex Spiro told the jury of eight during opening arguments that his client was offended because his team of engineers worked tirelessly to craft a rescue solution. By the time Musk and his team arrived in Thailand, eight of the 12 boys were rescued.
Musk grew up in South Africa, where calling someone a “pedo guy” is equal to calling someone a creepy guy, Spiro told the court.
“It might not be a term you and I will use,” Spiro said to the jury.
The tweets were later deleted, and Musk apologized to Unsworth on Twitter, Spiro said.
“This case is about an argument between two men,” he explained.
Musk apologized again to Unsworth a second time while on the stand. Musk also revealed that he was conned by an investigator who claimed to have incriminating information about Unsworth for which he paid $52,000 only to learn the information was false.
Taylor Wilson, an attorney for Unsworth, said his client should have been allowed to celebrate a successful rescue operation, but instead was tasked with the worldwide media coverage of Musk calling him a pedophile.
“Mr. Unsworth did the only thing he could,” Wilson said of the defamation suit.
The jury – which was asked during jury selection whether they could be impartial to billionaires and if they or their family members owned stock companies in Tesla or SpaceX – will hear testimony from Unsworth and rescue workers who were involved in the Thailand operation.
Unsworth’s attorneys referenced a September 2018 Buzzfeed article in which Musk emailed a reporter about child trafficking in Thailand and said Unsworth has a “child bride who was about 12 years old.”
Wood said that Musk later learned that Unsworth had met his partner when she was in her 30s and the claim about pedophilia was untrue. Wood asked Musk to read the end of the email he sent to the reporter who was seeking comment about the then-threat of a defamation lawsuit from Unsworth: “I hope he fucking sues me.”
Musk read that from the witness stand, paused and said, “Yeah, I guess be careful what you wish for.”