Rep. Devin Nunes Sues Twitter for “Abusive, Defamatory” Content
In an extraordinary shot across the bow, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has filed a major $550 million lawsuit against Twitter. The California congressman is claiming the social media site has shown a propensity for bias against conservatives which has manifested in “shadow-banning,” systematic censorship, and the refusal to listen to complaints about abusive behavior originating from the site’s liberal users.
Nunes filed his lawsuit in Virginia, claiming that the site was invested in derailing and obstructing his work as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for the last two years. While Nunes was investigating alleged surveillance abuses on the part of the Obama administration, Twitter was “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.”
While a private website like Twitter would seem to have broad discretion on which viewpoints get to air on its platform, Nunes’s lawsuit claims that because the site’s administrators have taken an active role in deciding which material gets published and which gets banned, it should be held responsible for any defamation found on the website.
He also accused Twitter of violating California’s “insulting words” prohibition, which covers language that encourages “violence and breach of the peace.” In addition to monetary damages, Nunes is demanding that Twitter unmask several anonymous accounts that have harassed and defamed him.
“Twitter is a machine,” Nunes’ lawyer said. “It is a modern-day Tammany Hall. Congressman Nunes intends to hold Twitter fully accountable for its abusive behavior and misconduct.”
In the lawsuit, Nunes’ legal team outlined the scope of Twitter’s liability.
“Twitter created and developed the content at issue in this case by transforming false accusations of criminal conduct, imputed wrongdoing, dishonesty and lack of integrity into a publicly available commodity used by unscrupulous political operatives and their donor/clients as a weapon,” they wrote. “Twitter is ‘responsible’ for the development of offensive content on its platform because it in some way specifically encourages development of what is offensive about the content.”
There are many reasons to doubt that this lawsuit will succeed, not least of which is the fact that Nunes is a public official. Defamation laws carve out fairly broad exceptions for those in the public eye, meaning that even if Nunes could prove that Twitter is more like a traditional publisher than a hands-off social media platform, they would probably be exempt from his defamation charges.
Our best guess is that this lawsuit is less about winning and more about pushing forward a political point, which is that these Silicon Valley tech giants are operating under the pretense of fairness and free speech while actively shoveling a left-wing agenda. The lawsuit not only draws awareness to that problem, its discovery motions could reveal a great many interesting truths about how Jack Dorsey runs his site.