Rep. Devin Nunes filed a lawsuit on Monday against Twitter and multiple Twitter users, alleging defamation, conspiracy, and negligence. Nunes is seeking $250 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.
The lawsuit alleges that the Twitter accounts of Liz Mair, “Devin Nunes’ Mom,” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow,” were defamers maliciously spreading lies about him before and after his 2018 re-election, and that “Twitter did nothing” to self-regulate or stop the offensive accounts. Nunes claims he 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.” Nunes also alleges this was not just an opposition campaign that negatively affected his re-election, but also an attack on his work on the House Intelligence Committee, leading investigations on government surveillance abuses.
Typically, social media sites would be exempt from defamation liability, but Nunes’ lawyers are arguing that Twitter monetized and knowingly allowed the offensive content to remain on the site, and is therefore complicit in Nunes’ defamation. The complaint also accuses Twitter of “shadow-banning” Nunes and other conservatives on the platform.
“Twitter is not a neutral platform such as an Internet bulletin board. To the contrary: as part and parcel of its Twitter’s role as an Internet content provider, Twitter and its CEO, Jack Dorsey, actively endorse and promote the many of agendas of the Democratic party,” wrote Nunes’ legal team.
The abusive content published by the named Twitter accounts includes impersonating Nunes’ mother, and repeatedly publishing content that was hateful, false, vile, depicting Nunes as involved in sexual acts and damaging to his reputation. The accounts were reviewed by Twitter’s content monitors over the course of 2018. They were aware of the defamation occurring, but allowed the content to remain posted despite clear rule violations.
“Twitter did nothing to investigate or review the defamation that appeared in plain view on its platform,” and pushed an agenda to “intimidate and interfere with Nunes’ investigation into corruption and Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election,” says the complaint. The lawsuit calls for Twitter to reveal the hidden identities behind the anonymous accounts.
The complaint accused Liz Mair (@LizMair), a communications strategist according to her Twitter bio, of accepting money on behalf of clients to collect “oppo” on Nunes and to organize a smear campaign against him before and after his election. Lawyers accused Mair of implying that “Nunes colluded with prostitutes and cocaine addicts, that Nunes does cocaine, and that Nunes was involved in a ‘Russian money laundering front.”
To be fair, I think the @fresnobee writing up your investment in a winery that allegedly used underage hookers to solicit investment– an allegation you've known about for years, during which you've stayed invested in it, I might add– did surprise you. https://t.co/acMlAXjPP8
— BrandValue$4B (@LizMair) June 23, 2018
The anonymous account Devin Nunes’ Mom (@DevinNunesMom) is accused of violating Twitter’s rules by falsely impersonating Nunes’ mother and tweeting a series of lies for more than a year, claiming Nunes was involved in “obstruction of justice, perjury, misuse of classified information, and other federal crimes.” Twitter did not review the account until this year. They finally suspended the account after Nunes’ mother, Toni Dian Nunes, filed a complaint herself.
The three accounts named in the lawsuit often interacted with and promoted each other on the platform in a seemingly organized way, says the suit. Devin Nunes’ Mom retweeted false and defamatory content tweeted by Mair, and Mair encouraged her 37,000 followers to follow Devin Nunes’ Cow.
— BrandValue$4B (@LizMair) July 12, 2018
“The substance and timing of the tweets, retweets, replies, and likes by Mair, Devin Nunes’ Mom, Devin Nunes’ cow, demonstrates all three bad actors were and are engaged in a joint effort…to defame Nunes,” the complaint stated.
“Shadow-banning” is the act of making a user’s content invisible or undiscoverable, unbeknownst to the original poster. The lawsuit alleges that Nunes tweets were shadow-banned by Twitter, “to restrict his free speech and to amplify the abusive and hateful content published,” by the named accounts defaming him.
A few weeks ago, Dorsey and Twitter’s legal chief Vijaya Gadde addressed accusations of shadow-banning on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Dorsey said Twitter “would fully admit we were probably way too aggressive” when dealing with conservative accounts.