Rep. Devin Nunes has sued Twitter and three users, including the anonymous creators of the parody accounts “Devin Nunes' Mom” and Devin Nunes' Cow,” over allegedly libelous tweets.
“Twitter allowed (and allows) its platform to serve as a portal of defamation in order to undermine public confidence in Plaintiff and to benefit his opponents and opponents of the Republican Party,” Nunes, a Republican from California, says in a complaint filed this week in Henrico County, Virginia. He is seeking at least $250 million in damages.
His complaint lists several examples of tweets he finds objectionable. One by “Devin Nunes' Mom” reads: “@DevinNunes your district is looking for you? Are you trying to obstruct a federal investigation again? You come home right this instant or no more Minecraft!”
Nunes adds that an “endless barrage of tweets” by the Devin Nunes' Mom account “maliciously attacked every aspect of Nunes' character, honesty, ethics and fitness to perform his duties as a United States Congressman.”
He alleges that the Devin Nunes' Cow account likewise conducted “a vicious defamation campaign against Nunes that lasted over a year,” and included tweets such as “Devin’s boots are full of manure. He’s udder-ly worthless and its pasture time to move him to prison.”
Nunes asserts that Twitter shouldn't be entitled to that protection, arguing that the company is not a “neutral” intermediary. Like some other Republicans, he contends that Twitter is biased against right-wing views.
"Twitter uses its platform, including proprietary algorithms, selectively to convey its corporate/institutional viewpoint, its position on issues and candidates for office, such as Plaintiff, to influence the outcome of elections, such as the 2018 election for California’s 22nd Congressional District, and as a dumping ground for 'oppo research'," the lawsuit contends. “Twitter is not a neutral platform such as an Internet bulletin board.”
Others, including New York Law School professor Ari Waldman, say tech companies filter out material posted by liberals as well as conservatives. “Activists associates with the Black Lives Matter movement have reported just as many if not more take downs of images discussing racism and police brutality than any of the anecdotal evidence of suspensions or take downs on the right,” he said last year in written testimony to Congress.
But even if anyone could prove bias by tech companies, they would still be protected by Section 230, according to the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Online platforms are within their First Amendment rights to moderate their online platforms however they like, and they’re additionally shielded by Section 230 for many types of liability for their users’ speech,” the EFF wrote last year. “It’s not one or the other. It’s both.”