California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes filed a lawsuit Monday seeking $250 million in damages against Twitter, as well as various Twitter accounts that have been trolling him using variations of his name — but his legal action appears to have backfired by drawing even more attention to the troll accounts.
The Twitter accounts named in this suit include @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow. While @DevinNunesMom was suspended prior to the lawsuit (after Nunes’ real mother filed a complaint), @DevinCow has been racking up followers since the suit was filed, going from just 1,209 followers to nearly 80,000 as of Tuesday morning.
I’m not quitting my day job 🐄 https://t.co/CUpYxn77Jr
— Devin Nunes’ cow (@DevinCow) March 19, 2019
The lawsuit also names Republican political consultant Liz Mair, whom Nunes accuses of coordinating with the anonymous accounts to target him for defamation. Mair released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that while she cannot discuss the details of the lawsuit, “as a public official, it is entirely proper and correct that [Nunes’] actions, political committee expenditures, voting record and conduct be subject to public scrutiny and debate.”
For those looking for comment from me on #DevinNunes lawsuit, here you go. Also, to support my legal defense and the ongoing, vital activities of the Swamp Accountability Fund, please donate here: https://t.co/zcYqrHn6OH pic.twitter.com/ogktKTIx4I
— BrandValue$4B (@LizMair) March 19, 2019
Mair has been using her Twitter account to collect donations to help pay for her legal fees. When the lawsuit was first filed, Mair had 37,900 followers. By Tuesday morning, she was up to almost 43,000.
If you're tuning into @CBSNews this AM and hearing about #DevinNunes lawsuit against me, please donate to help fund my defense and the vital work of the Swamp Accountability Project now: https://t.co/zcYqrHn6OH
— BrandValue$4B (@LizMair) March 19, 2019
The lawsuit claims that Twitter shadow-banned Nunes, a technique in which website users’ posts are visible only to them and thus receive little interaction. Although Republicans, including President Donald Trump, frequently claim they are the victims of shadow-banning, it simply isn’t true. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the low metrics are the result of the tendency of conservative users to interact with fringe accounts. Twitter accounts that interact with those on the fringe indicate to the platform’s algorithm that that account is either a troll or is helping to spread misinformation. Because right-wing accounts are more prone to spreading sensationalist content, people like Nunes assume they are being shadow-banned.
The irony is almost too obvious to be believable. As Nunes sues over his poor metrics, the accounts he names in the lawsuit grow ever more influential, all but proving a phenomenon known as the Streisand effect. In other words, as the Economist puts it, “efforts to suppress a juicy piece of online information can backfire and end up making things worse for the would-be censor.”
In conspiracy-laden language, the lawsuit claims that Nunes — who is derided by many in his district as a surrogate for Trump due to his handling of, and subsequent recusal from, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 election — went through “extreme pain and suffering” as a result of Twitter’s lack of action against defamers. It also claims that Twitter had an agenda to “squelch Nunes’ voice,” “influence the 2018 Congressional election, and distract, intimidate and interfere with Nunes’ investigation into corruption and Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election.”
Twitter will likely cite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity from liability for content posted on internet platforms, in its defense.
Meanwhile, some of Nunes’ colleagues are calling him out for his own role in his low metrics.
“Oh look, here’s Devin Nunes trying to silence free speech,” tweeted fellow California Rep. Ted Lieu (D) on Monday. “Here’s a thought: if you want better social media results, do better things.”
Oh look, here's Devin Nunes trying to silence free speech. Here's a thought: if you want better social media results, do better things. https://t.co/6BvSsrN60X
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 19, 2019
This story has been updated to include a statement from Liz Mair.