Elon Musk tested in court on Friday in a trial that may decide whether a tweet he sent in 2018 cost Tesla investors millions of dollars.
Tesla shareholders are suing the company to recover losses they say they suffered amid Musk’s claim that he had “secured” money to take the company private at $420 per share.
Musk told an attorney representing Tesla shareholders Friday that his tweets were truthful, if limited by the social media platform’s character count.
Musk also argued that Tesla’s stock price has not always shown as one might expect in regard to his tweets, noting that at one point he tweeted that he believed Tesla’s share price was too high, only to see the stock climb further in value.
“Just because I tweet something doesn’t mean people believe it,” Musk said.
Court was adjourned before the attorney, Nicholas Porritt, could ask Musk directly about the “funding secured” tweet.
Had the take-private plan ultimately materialized, people who owned shares of Tesla at the time could have earned profits on their holdings. But when it became clear there was no deal, shares of Tesla stock began a steady decline that continued into the following year.
On Wednesday, Alex Spiro, an attorney for Musk, Tesla’s CEO, called the 2018 tweet “a split-second decision” meant to show Musk was being transparent about discussions that had occurred with Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund about a potential deal.
“He didn’t plan to tweet this,” Spiro said.
Nicholas Porritt, an attorney representing lead plaintiff Glen Littleton, 71, of Kansas City, Missouri, and other shareholders, alleged that Musk defrauded them.
“His lies caused regular people like Glen Littleton to lose millions and millions of dollars,” Porritt said, adding that the tweet also hurt pension funds.
After the trial adjourned Wednesday, Porritt told The Associated Press he hopes to call Musk to the stand Friday after two other witnesses testify. If the allotted time runs out, Musk would most likely testify Monday, Porritt said.
This is not the first time Musk has sued over his discourse on Twitter. He won a defamation suit in 2019 brought by Vernon Unsworth, a diver whom Musk called “pedo guy” on the platform as Unsworth helped rescue a stranded soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand.
Musk could not be reached for comment.
The trial is unusual because most class-action shareholder suits are dismissed or settled. In this case, Musk and his attorneys say they believe they can convince a jury his tweets about making Tesla a private company again were made in good faith.
Littleton told the nine-person San Francisco jury that Musk’s claim about the financing alarmed him. According to his testimony, Littleton had purchased Tesla investments designed to reward him for his belief that the automaker’s stock would eventually be worth far more than the $420 per share that Musk claimed would be the price at which the company would go private.
Littleton said he sold most of his holdings to cut his losses but still saw the value of his Tesla portfolio plunge by 75%.
“The damage was done,” Littleton said. “I was in a state of shock.”
Associated Press contributed.