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Elon Musk Still on Twitter Despite “Pedo Guy” Jibe

From the Independent, last week:

Elon Musk has apologised to the British cave diver he labelled “pedo guy”.

…Mr Musk… attacked Mr [Vern] Unsworth on his Twitter page, claimed it was suspect that Mr Unsworth lived in Thailand, labelled him “pedo guy” apparently without any grounds at all and suggested that the diver had invited the attack on himself.

…Mr Musk had initially doubled down on the tweets, despite intense criticism. “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true,” he wrote to one user who questioned him over the posts.

As was widely reported, Musk lashed out after Unsworth contemptuously dismissed his suggestion that the group of trapped boys that Unsworth had rescued from a flooded cave could instead have been brought to safety via a mini-submarine designed by his company.

The offending Tweets have now been deleted – but there is no indication that Twitter took any interest in the controversy, despite reports in June that the platform was cracking down on abuse.

The implications of Twitter’s inaction are disturbing. “Pedo” is not a mere insult, like “bastard” or “wanker”; the term is always meant literally and substantively, to indicate an inappropriate and disturbing sexual interest that is synonymous with serious crimes against children. The word’s deployment is highly stigmatising, and someone so labelled is in danger of personal destruction and perhaps even of physical harm. It does not matter whether such an allegation is merely spat out as a casual jibe in a fit of petulance (as in this case), or is made as a serious proposition – it takes very little to stir up a mob, or to put a cloud over someone’s reputation.

Twitter could have sent a strong message that this kind of rhetoric is unacceptable, by suspending Musk for a period. Instead, it has colluded in the normalisation and trivialisation of false child sex abuse allegations.

Perhaps someone who is not a public figure would have been treated differently, but if so then we are in an even worse situation. If anything, a Twitter account with a blue tick verification symbol ought to be held to a higher standard – to instead give such users extra license to bully and abuse is dystopian.

UPDATE (2021): The following year, Unsworth later sued Musk, but lost:

Jury foreman Joshua Jones said the panel decided that Unsworth’s lawyers spent too much time trying to appeal to their emotions and not concentrating on the evidence.

“The failure probably happened because they didn’t focus on the tweets,” Jones said after the verdict was announced. “I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it. In a court of law you have to prove your case, which they did not prove.”

Musk’s defence was that “pedo” is simply an insult, and Unsworth’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, attempted to frame this as itself being a victory despite the outcome. Was Unsworth well served by his lawyer? Wood has since become notorious for expounding QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories and for claiming that Trump won the 2020 election.

One Response

  1. Elon couldn’t help himself! He was driven mad by the fact of his mini “sub”, and how it was universally rejected in favor of the divers’ much bigger ones.

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