Accuses social media giant of ‘knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory…’
(Rory Appleton and Kate Irby, The Fresno Bee) Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., filed a lawsuit against Twitter, several of its users and a political strategist in Virginia state court on Monday, according to a Fox News report.
He is asking for $250 million in damages.
The lawsuit accuses Twitter of hiding, punishing or “shadow-banning” posts with a conservative bent — including those from Nunes — while simultaneously allowing others to profit from defaming him. Nunes’ attorney, Steven S. Biss, claims 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.”
Fox News posted what it said was a copy of the lawsuit, apparently filed in Henrico County. But the document does not bear an official stamp, mark or case number, and Virginia’s online courts database had no record of it being filed as of 5 p.m. Monday. The Frenso Bee reached out to Biss and Nunes seeking to authenticate it.
Liz Mair — a political strategist who acted against Nunes in the previous election through the Swamp Accountability Project, a dark money group targeting President Donald Trump and his congressional allies — is the only individual named in the lawsuit. Two apparent parody Twitter accounts, “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ cow,” are also named.
Nunes’ lawsuit claims “Twitter contributed materially to the illegal conduct of defamers Mair, Devin Nunes’ Mom and Devin Nunes’ cow.”
Mair was unaware of the lawsuit when reached by The Bee late Monday evening.
“I’d like to comment, but I probably shouldn’t,” she said. Nunes and Biss did not immediately return a request for comment. Twitter also refused to comment on the lawsuit.
The two accounts, and more than a dozen similar ones, sprang up during the course of the 2018 election and frequently criticized the congressman and praised his Democratic challenger, Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz.
Nunes is part of a three-generation dairy family.
Janz and Nunes have significant social media followings and fought one of the most highly publicized political battles in the country. Nunes’ profile rose considerably in the months leading up to the election, mostly due to his close ties with Trump and a series of controversy-stirring moves as head of the House Intelligence Committee.
The lawsuit opens by claiming that Twitter is an “information content provider.” It develops content by censoring viewpoints it does not agree with, hiding such content (including several Nunes tweets) and by “knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory — providing both a voice and financial incentive to the defamers — thereby facilitating defamation on its platform.”
Nunes claims Twitter “ignored lawful complaints” and failed to enforce its terms of service, thus allowing Mair, the accounts and the platform itself to profit from his defamation. It accuses Twitter of allowing the Devin Nunes’ Mom account to impersonate Nunes’ actual mother, who also serves as his campaign treasurer, despite its rules against impersonations within the terms of service.
The two accounts and several other similar ones engaged in attacks on Nunes that were “pre-planned, calculated, orchestrated and undertaken by multiple individuals acting in concert, over a continuous period of time exceeding a year,” the lawsuit says.
“The full scope of the conspiracy, including the names of all participants and the level of involvement of donors and members of the Democratic Party, is unknown at this time and will be the subject of discovery in this action.”
The lawsuit also accuses Twitter of influencing elections, including Nunes’ 2018 race for California’s 22nd District.
“Twitter is not a neutral platform such as an Internet bulletin board,” the lawsuit says. “To the contrary: As part and parcel of its Twitter’s (sic) role as an internet content provider, Twitter and its CEO, Jack Dorsey, actively endorse and promote the many agendas of the Democratic Party.”
Nunes defeated Janz by about 5 percentage points — by far the closest race in Nunes’ 16-year congressional career. The challenger raised about $10 million and campaigned vigorously for more than 19 months. However, the lawsuit pinned the close margin on Twitter.
“Nunes endured an orchestrated defamation campaign of stunning breadth and scope, one that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life,” it reads. “Unlike prior elections, where Nunes won by sweeping majorities, Nunes won on November 6, 2018 by a much narrower margin, receiving 52.7 percent of the 222,379 votes.”
Janz responded to news of the lawsuit and its alleged conspiracies in a statement to The Bee:
“The election is over. This is more of the same; petty personal politics over real problem solving. This lawsuit, and other similar conspiracy theories, does not help (San Joaquin) Valley residents solve Valley problems.”
The lawsuit represents an escalation in an ongoing battle between some of the country’s most powerful conservatives and the social media giant.
Nunes fired his opening shot in July, when he openly accused Twitter of censoring his lawsuit and threatened this very lawsuit.
Nunes; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Florida congressman Matt Gaetz all piled onto Twitter after the platform posted a blog post clarifying that it does not hide or punish tweets specifically due to political bent.
Twitter spokesman Ian Plunkett told The Bee in July that the company had no further statements beyond what was in the blog, but he noted Twitter had “stated repeatedly — including (in) public testimony to the U.S. Congress — we do not shadow ban.”
McCarthy, now the House’s top Republican and Nunes’ longtime ally and congressional neighbor, would eventually meet with Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, privately in August.
Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Sandberg would eventually testify before Congress in September.
Twitter has previously prevailed over attempts to hold it responsible for hate speech or propaganda. It also recently fended off an attempt by a Charles C. Johnson, a far-right activist and blogger from Clovis, Calif., whose lawsuit claimed Twitter had unfairly taken thousands of dollars in revenue from him when it banned him after he solicited donations to “take out” civil rights activist and Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay McKesson.
Johnson’s lawsuit also attempted to paint Twitter as marketplace of ideas that unfairly targeted conservative thought. His lawsuit was filed in January 2018 and dismissed in July.
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