Rep. Devin Nunes' can't proceed with a lawsuit against Twitter over allegedly libelous tweets by the anonymous creators of the parody accounts "Devin Nunes' Mom" and "Devin Nunes' Cow," and by political consultant Liz Mair, a Virginia judge said Wednesday.
In a three-page letter to the lawyers in the case, Henrico County Circuit Court Judge John Marshall said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes Twitter from liability for allegedly defamatory posts by users.
The decision allows Nunes, a Republican from California, to continue with proceedings against the other Twitter users -- although it's not clear whether the lawmaker will be able to show that their posts were defamatory. Only statements of verifiable facts can be defamatory, as opposed to opinions and hyperbole.
So far, the people behind the "Devin Nunes' Mom" and "Devin Nunes' Cow" accounts have not been unmasked.
Nunes' original complaint, filed last year, 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!”
He also alleged the Devin Nunes' Cow account 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 also argued that Twitter is biased against right-wing content, and therefore shouldn't be able to rely the protections of Section 230. (Some conservative politicians have accused tech companies of attempting to silence right-wing speech, but there's little if any empirical evidence that companies treat speech by conservatives differently than speech by liberals.)
Marshall rejected Nunes' argument, noting that other judges have ruled that web companies like Twitter are entitled to immunity for users' posts, regardless of accusations of viewpoint bias.