The entrapment of a Thai youth soccer team and their coach in a flooded cave has held the world’s attention for nearly two weeks. Their rescue, eventually achieved by a team of international professional divers, went smoothly with the exception of a spat between a British diver and billionaire Elon Musk, as well as the tragic death of a Thai Navy SEAL. While internationally, the rescue operation has been hailed as a miracle, the drama between the diver and Musk has led to a debate that extends far outside the situation.
When attention was first drawn to the events transpiring, Musk decided to take part in the rescue efforts. His plan was to build a child-sized submarine to transfer the trapped boys safely from inside the cave to its exit. While there is debate as to whether the idea was provided in good conscience or as a ploy to generate good public relations, what cannot be denied is that his actions were ultimately intended to aid the children.
Soon after he released the developed submarine, British diver Vern Unsworth bashed his attempts at helping during an interview saying that the sub was “just a PR stunt” and that “he can stick it somewhere it hurts.” Further bickering ensues, eventually leading to Elon tweeting, and later deleting, “sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
While the divers comments were made in poor taste, Elon had an opportunity to defuse a tense situation and instead chose to escalate it. Not only did he do this but he made unfounded accusations of pedophilia against a man he had no relation to. The jab, while clearly meant as an insult, brings deeply divisive topics into the forefront of international thought.
In the midst of the global #MeToo movement, allegations of sexual misconduct are being taken more seriously now than ever. Cases against even the most famous and influential are finally being given the recognition they need. However, in the midst of this post-Harvey Weinstein era, dangers lurk. False allegations, while uncommon, carry volatile results. The effects of these lies can extend far beyond the single reputation of the accused.
In extreme cases, entire populations will unite under misinformation and punish the accused of a crime never committed. In India, a case arose from false rumors of child kidnapping, which led to a mob of 2,000 killing several people who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the mob stopped to consider the facts and verified them, the victims could have been saved. While this is a drastic situation it shows the danger of groupthink. In an age of false information, fact-checking is vital.
The danger is not only to the victim however. The #MeToo movement has been a struggle from the start, but things could get even more difficult with the introduction of even a few false allegations. There are those among us who wish to discredit the stories of the brave people who have spoken out against their aggressors. Whether they hold a strictly traditional belief for the role of the victims or they simply don’t believe them is hard to differentiate. What is clear is that with every false allegation, their argument that all or most accusations are false grows stronger. On a national scale, this can influence the perception of the movement, forcing people to pick sides of either support of condemnation of situations they aren’t familiar with.
This all begs the question: what constitutes evidence? The very nature of these acts leads them to be performed in private areas away from the prying eyes of bystanders, making evidence hard to find. This contributes to the vitality of verbal testament. When the credibility of the accuser is called into question, the case becomes significantly harder to win regardless of evidence. Pre-existing opinions of the #MeToo movement by the jury of the public can influence the outcome of a case despite evidence or the lack thereof.
Elon Musk is an internationally renowned billionaire, and is a founder of Tesla and SpaceX. His perception as a generous, fun-loving rocket scientist has drawn fans from around the world. Naturally his success and followers have given him respectability. Credibility of the accuser is always an important factor to take into consideration when an accusation is brought to attention. In the case of Elon Musk’s allegation, he carries tremendous weight with his words. Fortunately for the diver, the allegation was made as an insult, which didn’t constitute further investigation. Had the words been spoken in less informal circumstances, the world’s reaction could have been drastically different. Elon Musk later apologized to the diver and assures that the comment was unfounded and made from a place of anger.
The #MeToo movement is rapidly growing in momentum and with it the potential for justice. As this happens it is important to not be lost in the urge to accept every accusation brought before the world stage. Evidence must always be a requirement before significant action is taken. A single false accusation taken too far can irreparably damage the case and reputation of the justified.