Devin Nunes suing Twitter for defamation, shadow-banning, and censoring conservatives and ignoring lawful complaints of abuse
Conservatives angry over the suppression of their views on social media may be getting their day in court thanks to Rep. Devin Nunes, who yesterday filed a lawsuit in Henrico County, Virginia (full complaint here) seeking:
... $250 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages against Twitter and a handful of its users on Monday, accusing the social media site of "shadow-banning conservatives" to secretly hide their posts, systematically censoring opposing viewpoints, and totally "ignoring" lawful complaints of repeated abusive behavior. ...
Nunes claimed Twitter wanted to derail his work on the House Intelligence Committee, which he chaired until 2019, as he looked into alleged and apparent surveillance abuses by the government. Nunes said Twitter was guilty of "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."
The lawsuit alleged defamation, conspiracy and negligence, as well as violations of the state's prohibition against "insulting words" — effectively fighting words that tend towards "violence and breach of the peace." The complaint sought not only damages, but also an injunction compelling Twitter to turn over the identities behind numerous accounts he said harassed and defamed him. (source: Fox News)
I presume Nunes chose to file in Virginia to avoid exposure to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California and District of Columbia juries, drawn from a pool that votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Rep. Nunes appeared last night with Sean Hannity and promised more lawsuits to come:
Grabien screen grab.
Rush transcript via Grabien:
>> Sean: Just hours before, for Intel chairman community Devin Nunes filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter in Virginia state court, alleging the social media company negligently failed to remove defamatory and malicious tweets about the congressman and his family per Twitter is declining come in tonight, but here to talk about this lawsuit and much more. Congressman Devin Nunes. You do have a high bar. We all need that. If you are a public figure, you need actual malice and what’s known as a reckless disregard for the truth. Or else I would sue people every hour of every day. But it’s harder. It’s not like in the case of the commenting high school kid. Tell us about the suit.
>> This is the first of many, Sean, we are actually going after Twitter first because they are the main proliferator and they spread fake news and slanderous news. People can look on Fox News, it’s all there. The case we were basically looking is this is an orchestrated effort. So people were targeting me, anonymous accounts that were look, there are — these accounts aren’t supposed to exist pretwitter says they don’t have accounts that do this. This is the first of many lawsuits that are coming. But there were several fake news accounts, whether its regards to the Russian investigation or to me, and we have to hold all of these people accountable. Because if we don’t, our First Amendment rights are at stake here. This isn’t 20 years ago, Sean. What’s happening is that Twitter becomes the gas lighting for all the news. When they are regulating us, they’re regulating what people can see on my tweets, which they have done, and they are proliferating out things that they agree with with the algorithms that they develop, they need to come clean. They are a content developer. That’s right. If you remember last summer, they shadow banned me.
>> Sean: He denied that ever went on, and he said he wants to be fair. But your analysis has not shown that it is fair across the board and that a lot of these social media sites are in fact using those algorithms, if you are well, or they have behaviors to advance one side, which would then be, what, a political donation for Democrats?
>> Well, how is it that every day there’s conservatives that are being banned? Look, they don’t want to college had a banning, that’s fine. They can call it whatever they want to call it. The fact of the matter is people cannot see my tweets. If you get emails from Twitter, it’s commonly fake new stuff. If they don’t want to be a content developer can make us all your algorithms. How is it possible I can be attacked relentlessly hundreds of times a day by fake accounts that they claim their terms of service should not be there. I can put something that’s sexually explicit, attacked someone, they would say stop it, this is a sensitive tweed. They would never say that to people coming after me or other conservatives. This is more than just conservatives. Every American should care about that if they should care about the First Amendment. The price has changed, you said it numerous times for the press is dead. If we do not clean this up, I’ve said this on your show a few weeks ago. This is part of the continuing Russian investigation. We are not going to let this Dell make these fake news stories, written about this investigation, we are going to challenge every single one in court.
>> Sean: The thing is it so influential. Talk about so many, if not millions and billions of people. Facebook and some others. It’s incalculable how much that assists a narrative or point of view. Let me ask you this. As the former house Intel
A key element in the lawsuit is a challenge to Twitter's claim of protection under:
... Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act [that] says they should not "be treated as the publisher or speaker" of the content — allowing the platforms to exist without having to preapprove every post for potential legal issues. (via the New York Times)
But if the complaint's allegations are true, then Twitter, by favoring some viewpoints over others, is in effect a publisher with responsibility for the content that it favors, not a platform equally accessible to all, and therefore not liable for whatever content appears there.
Senator Josh Hawley has been pushing for a modification of the Communications Decency Act and recently discussed this for ten minutes at CPAC:
No doubt, Twitter will seek to have the lawsuit immediately dismissed, but if it is allowed to proceed, the key will be the discovery process, in which the plaintiff (Nunes) can demand disclosure of the algorithms used by Twitter, a well as all internal documents discussing moderation, identification of accounts it regards as problematic, and other evidence of possible bias. More than any actual damages (although a quarter-billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at), access to this information could be very important.
The New York Times' accuunt of the lawsuit is unusually blatant in its bias, starting with a headline that ignores many of the specifics of the complaint:
The text of the article takes Twitter's denial of shadow-banning as established fact:
Mr. Nunes repeated the debunked claim that the social network was "shadow banning" Republicans, including him. Shadow banning — the act of a platform allowing someone to post but not allowing others to see the post, effectively making them invisible — became a political catch phrase in July, when a Vice News article used the term to characterize a Twitter bug that was affecting some prominent conservatives.
The Times is not alone in seeking to cast the lawsuit in negative terms. CBS starts its article with the loaded language, "Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the controversial, arch-conservative..." But this time, the Washington Post was fairly straightforward in its report.
The lawsuit also identifies Republican consultant Liz Mair as the author of allegedly libelous content. She has (so far) four times asked for donations to a legal defense fund on her Twitter feed since the lawsuit was announced late yesterday.