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Elon Musk's social media conduct may be bad for his business

Monday, July 16, 2018

Associated Press

Whether it's investors betting against his stock or reporters or analysts who ask tough questions, Elon Musk has fought back, often around the clock on Twitter.

In the past few months, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO has become a bigger, more snarling presence on social media. But when Musk called a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile in front of 22.2 million Twitter followers Sunday, he may have gone one tweet too far.

The tweet, later deleted, sent investors away from Tesla stock and could expose the temperamental rocket scientist to a libel suit. In the tweets, Musk strayed from a vigorous defense of his companies into personal insult, with no facts to back it up.

"This has nothing to do with defending Tesla," said Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan. "This goes over a line where he can't claim 'Well, my big sin is that I go too far in defending the company.'"

In a TV interview, British diver Vern Unsworth criticized Musk and SpaceX engineers for sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. The submarine was not used. Unsworth called it a "PR stunt" and said it wouldn't have worked anyway.

Musk responded with a tweet branding Unsworth a "pedo." In a second tweet, Musk said he bet the claim was true. Unsworth told CNN he is considering legal action.

A Tesla spokeswoman wouldn't comment on the tweets.