Congressman Devin Nunes has reportedly filed a defamation lawsuit in Virginia state court against Twitter, Republican political consultant Liz Mair, and two parodical Twitter accounts (@DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow) seeking at least $250 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Twitter is intentionally refusing to enforce its Terms of Service and Twitter Rules against accounts that supposedly attempt to defame conservative individuals such as Nunes.
The complaint further alleges that Twitter “intended to generate and proliferate false and defamatory statements” about the congressman to influence the midterm elections; tried to “intimidate” him; and sought to “interfere with his important investigation of corruption by the Clinton campaign and alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election.” At the time of writing, one of the Twitter accounts named as a defendant, @DevinNunesMom had been suspended, but @DevinCow was still active.
Defamation lawsuits by public figures are subject to a high standard under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In that case, the Court held that a public figure alleging defamation must allege “actual malice”—that is, that the defendant made the statement with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard to whether it was true or false. Additionally, a safe harbor provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 insulates internet service providers, including social media sites like Twitter, from liability for content published on their platforms by third parties. Given these legal hurdles, some have described Nunes’ lawsuit as a “publicity stunt.”
‘This was an orchestrated effort’: Devin Nunes sues Twitter, ‘Devin Nunes’ cow’ for defamation, Washington Post, March 19, 2019