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A dive in public opinion

16 July 2018 | Lloyd Hughes

Elon Musk seems to have lost the plot yesterday.

Smarting at one of the cave dive rescuers of the Thai football team describing his submarine idea as a “PR Stunt” in an interview, he went on to label the diver as “pedo guy” while also mentioning the fact he “lives in Thailand (sus)”.

Alluding to someone being a paedophile, with all the associated hate and disgust that entails, is one of the lowest insults someone can dish out. It also suggests that any expat over the age of 40 living in Thailand is definitely a paedo, because why else would you live in such a tourist hotspot? It can’t be for the breath-taking scenery, warmer climate and more relaxed way of living, surely? Not to mention that, as a cave diving enthusiast, you’ll have exceptional diving opportunities within easy distance…

It also suggests that Thailand is a paedophile hub – denigrating the whole country and not just its expat community.

Musk also followed it up when criticised with ‘Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true” – an incredibly egotistical offer, implying the great worth given to a dollar with his signature on it.

The diver in question, Vernon Unsworth, is allegedly set to sue Elon Musk and I really can’t say I blame him. It’s an abominable thing to say.

Elon Musk was riding on a crest of good publicity for many years thanks to his companies’ extraordinarily advanced tech that seemed to be doing the right thing by way of the environment.

Given the fact he launched a Tesla (his own car, no less) into space as a PR stunt though, he’s clearly not averse to getting in the limelight.

More recently, he’s lashed out at negative media coverage and, given yesterday’s outburst, it’s fair to say it looks like he has a very thin skin. With Donald Trump often responding to ire aimed his way with unbelievably petty tweets, Musk seems to have taken a leaf out of his book. Although I’d like to think that even Trump wouldn’t stoop as low as labelling someone a paedophile with no evidence whatsoever (although I wouldn’t bet heavily against it never happening, to be fair).

At first, I’d commend Elon Musk for getting involved in the rescue attempt, investing resource to try and save the boys – if he’d done so without making such a big deal of the fact he was trying to help. The British divers involved in the rescue were clearly discomfited by the word “hero” when labelled as such post rescue, insisting that they weren’t. I can imagine Elon Musk’s reaction to such an honorific would have been a tad more along the lines of “Oh well, if you insist” rather than an outright dismissal.

The rescue was a fantastic achievement in the face of extreme challenges (the death of the ex-Navy SEAL diver serving to horrifically underline this) and should be held up with high praise. But this sort of carry on and petty backbiting from Musk because they didn’t believe his solution viable is tarnishing what was an incredible undertaking.

Even if he did smart at the words “PR stunt” a better option would’ve been to release a dignified statement, praising the work of the dive team and putting the focus back on to them.

His global standing is taking a battering in the wake of what may very well have been a genuine attempt to help, but what is increasingly looking like a narcissistic bid to make it all about him.