Devin Nunes, a Republican congressman from California, said on Monday that he is suing Twitter, a GOP operative, and unnamed defendants behind parody accounts on the social network, for defamation and other claims, after those accounts insulted him on the platform.
In an appearance on Hannity, Nunes said he was suing Twitter in the first of many lawsuits he plans to file against technology companies for their bias against conservatives. That appearance came after Fox News reported that the congressman had filed a $250 million lawsuit “in Virginia state court” on Monday and posted a document that lacks a case number and any verification of filing.
Nunes, who represents the 22nd District in California, said in the document posted by Fox News that Twitter played a willing party to abuse he faced from a number of parody accounts, including one using the Twitter handle @DevinNunesMom. He also alleged that Twitter shadowbanned his account @devinnunes — a process by which a social network can quietly curb the distribution or reach of a user’s content without outright banning them — when he tried to respond to that criticism.
“The shadow-banning was intentional,” Nunes’ document reads, noting that Twitter is “essential” for the meaningful participation in American democracy. “It was calculated to interfere with and influence the federal election and interfere with Nunes’ ongoing investigation as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.”
Republicans have alleged that technology platforms including Google, Facebook, and Twitter have an unfair bias against conservative viewpoints, an argument that these companies have repeatedly denied and disputed. Last July, following a disputed report by Vice News that stirred up conservative sentiment and is cited in the Nunes complaint, Twitter said in a blog post that it does not shadow ban, which it defined as making a user’s content undiscoverable to everyone but that user. “And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology,” the company wrote.
The current status of Nunes’ lawsuit is unclear. The online filing system for the Henrico County Circuit in Virginia, where Nunes says he filed his case, shows no suits under Devin Nunes’ name on a search for civil cases since Jan. 1, 2000. Neither Nunes’ attorney nor press representative answered BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment.
Liz Mair, a Republican communications strategist who has worked for a number of GOP lawmakers and who is also named a defendant in the suit, told BuzzFeed News in an email that she had not reviewed the documentation. Having been critical of Nunes in the past on Twitter, Mair claimed she had learned of the congressman’s plan to sue from another reporter — implying she had yet to be served with a suit — and declined further comment.
Along with Twitter and Mair, Nunes’ document says that he is seeking to go after the unknown operators of the Twitter accounts @DevinNunesMom and @devincow, which he claims defamed him by saying, among other things, that he was a Russian spy who is friends with racists. The document alleges that Mair and the two accounts were engaged in a coordinated campaign to defame him.
Twitter allows for parody accounts, though its terms of service prohibits direct impersonation that is intended to mislead others. Nunes says that the @DevinNunesMom account defamed him when it posted a diagram of three humans representing Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Nunes in a sexually compromising position. In the document, Nunes argues that Twitter is party to this defamation because it allowed these tweets to be posted and kept him from exercising his First Amendment rights through a supposed shadow ban.
“In 2018, Twitter shadow-banned Plaintiff in order to restrict his free speech and to amplify the abusive and hateful content published and republished by Mair, Devin Nunes’ Mom, Devin Nunes’ cow, Fire Devin Nunes, Devin Nunes Grapes, and others,” the document reads.
In arguing that Twitter is responsible for the content of the users making fun of him, Nunes’ suit attempt to sidestep a current law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects internet companies from responsibility for much of the content that their users post on their platforms.
In an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity show on Monday night, Nunes encouraged viewers to go to Fox News’ website to see his complaint. He also said he’d be going after other tech companies, but said that Twitter was first because “they’re the main proliferator” of “fake news.” He also suggested that Twitter should show the public its algorithms so that people could discern if there was indeed bias.
Nunes is far from the only conservative to allege bias, but he is the first sitting lawmaker to say he’d pursue a lawsuit against a tech platform for it. On Sunday, the president’s son Donald Trump, Jr. penned an opinion piece that accused Facebook of conservative bias, something the company has also strongly denied.