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Newsdeck

Musk Says Speaking Out Leads to ‘Many Self-Inflicted Wounds’

Musk Says Speaking Out Leads to ‘Many Self-Inflicted Wounds’
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., at the Atreju convention in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, 16 December 2023. Calpers, the largest state public pension fund in the US, tentatively plans to vote against a proposed $56-billion pay package for Musk, a sign of opposition from a major investor.

Elon Musk said he is “guilty of many self-inflicted wounds” while being questioned in a lawsuit accusing him of promoting a conspiracy theory falsely identifying a California man as a federal agent posing as a neo-Nazi street brawler.

But the billionaire also said he didn’t think he had “meaningfully harmed” the Jewish 22-year-old who sued him for defamation.

“There’s some risk that what I say is incorrect, but one has to balance that against having a chilling effect on free speech in general, which would undermine the entire foundation of our democracy,” Musk said in a sworn deposition that was made public Monday over his lawyer’s objections.

Musk was sued in Texas in October by Ben Brody after endorsing a social media post that compared an Instagram profile of Brody to a photo of a White supremacist who violently clashed with the Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, while both groups were protesting a Pride event in the city.

Read More: Elon Musk Sued for Defamation Over ‘False Flag’ Neo-Nazi Claim

Internet personalities cited the profile, which identified Brody as a University of California, Riverside, political science major who planned to work for the government, in claiming that the street brawl was engineered by the authorities to discredit right-wing groups. Similar “false flag” claims have been propagated about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as well as a number of mass shootings.

Brody said in his suit that he and his family suffered a wave of harassment by “belligerent strangers” apparently motivated by Musk’s statements. He said he also feared long-term career consequences.

While Musk’s commentary on social media has landed him in court before, it’s the first time he’s been sued for defamation since buying Twitter in 2022 for $44 billion and rebranding it as X. During the March 27 deposition, Musk said he has not changed his posting habits on the platform since the acquisition — even if it isn’t in his company’s best interests.

“I may have done more to financially impair the company than to help it,” he told Brody’s lawyer, Mark Bankston, according to the more than 100-page transcript. “I do not guide my posts by what is financially beneficial but what I believe is interesting or entertaining to the public.”

Officials at X didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Over the course of the conversation, Musk shared insights about his views on the role X should play in managing misinformation and how his own posts are seen by users on the platform.

‘Source of Truth’

“My goal is simply to have the X platform be the best source of truth on the internet,” he said. “And when you try to figure out the truth of things, you — there’s a debate. That debate, you know, goes one way or the other, but it is a vigorous debate.”

Musk said he did not know Brody, nor did he have any ill will toward him. But he also questioned whether the 22-year-old was actually suffering as a result of the posts. He said the tweets at issue in the lawsuit — which were replies to posts shared by other users — did not get as many views as those he shares directly to his account. As of Tuesday, the tweet had 1.2 million views.

“People are attacked all the time in the media, online media, social media,” he said. “But it is rare that that actually has a meaningful negative impact on their life.”

Bankston asked Musk whether he visited the profile pages of the people posting claims about Brody to assess whether they had a history of making “really wacky, obviously false things.”

Musk said he didn’t consider that to be a reliable way to vet the veracity of an individual’s posts online because, “once in a while, a conspiracy theorist is going to be right.”

‘Shake-Down Cases’

The conversation grew contentious at many points, as Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro frequently interrupted Bankston’s questions with objections and commentary about the case — and Bankston himself.

“You keep filing these silly, frivolous shake-down cases,” Spiro said at one point.

Previously, Bankston won a $49 million defamation verdict against right-wing host Alex Jones for claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the grieving parents were actors.

At another point in the questioning, Musk let on that he’s sometimes his own worst enemy.

Bankston asked him about telling his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that “I’ve shot myself in the foot so often, I ought to buy some Kevlar boots.”

“Would you say that as of last summer that you knew that you had had some difficulties restraining your impulses on Twitter?” the lawyer asked.

“I would say that I — you know, I’m guilty of many self-inflicted wounds,” Musk said.

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