Elon Musk and the Three Libel Suits

Elon Musk
Photo by Lambert/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
April 11, 2022

Now that Elon Musk has become the largest shareholder in Twitter, he threatens to command even greater influence over what circulates online. Musk, after all, is perhaps the social network’s most enthusiastic user, following the defenestration of Donald Trump, and certainly its foremost advocate for unencumbered shitposting. Now, with his $3 billion, 9.1 percent stake, it’s widely expected that Musk will steer the social media giant towards a lighter touch with respect to speech regulation.

It’s something of a coup for Musk, who was to be assigned a corporate babysitter after claiming in a 2018 tweet that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. (He hadn’t, and was fined $40 million by the S.E.C.) Last week, Musk and Twitter C.E.O. Parag Agrawal said that Musk would be joining the board. By Sunday evening, both had backtracked: Agrawal announced that Musk had changed his mind about the seat, which was contingent on a background check and a 14.9 percent cap on his stake in the company. Now, in theory, Musk could either dump his stake or build an even larger position, without the same fiduciary requirements.

Before he confronts the boardroom, though, Musk could find himself testifying in a different venue. That’s because Musk is on the celebrity-studded witness list for Johnny Depp’s defamation trial in Virginia against ex-wife Amber Heard. The proceeding began today and will focus on how Heard presented herself as the victim of domestic abuse in a 2018 Washington Post column. Over the years, Musk has been a good friend of Heard’s—the two dated for several months after she split from Depp in 2016—and so the Tesla chief had a first-hand look at one of the most combustible relationships in Hollywood history.