Being a politician may look easy and many Americans certainly feel like their representatives should spend more time representing them and less time raising money or schmoozing with lobbyists. Social media is a popular place to discuss this and in many cases to insult them, from the President of the United States all the way down to local school board members or town councilors. One Congressman has decided that he has had enough. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has sued Twitter.

Devin Nunes and his Lawsuit

Devin Nunes is probably best known for being one of the most vocal supporters of President Donald Trump, which undoubtedly drew the ire of many who wouldn’t have known who he was otherwise. Many politicians take the criticism with a grain of salt, ignore it or strike back, as Trump tends to do. Nunes has decided to do something else, filing suit in state court in Henrico County, Virginia seeking $250 million in damages from Twitter and three users.

Twitter has seemingly been in a feud with Republican lawmakers and followers for some time, complaining about shadowbanning and censorship on the platform. This issue was brought up during a Congressional hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who deftly danced around the issue saying that he had found no difference in the reach of a tweet between Democrats and Republicans.

Does Nunes Have Grounds

Nunes alleges that numerous Twitter profiles that parody him, make jokes about him and according to Nunes lie about him. One depicts him in a compromising position with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as other posts that he finds insulting. Nunes alleges that Twitter allowed the three accounts to continue with their defamation campaigns and that it stood by as Democrat operatives manipulated them and used them for opposition research.

Nunes also claims that the campaign is intended to inflict pain and to silence him, as well as to influence last year’s election by distracting and intimidating him. Twitter, he alleges, stood by and did nothing to stop it because he is a Republican and his agenda does not fit Twitter’s. He also claims that Twitter allowed this content to be monetized.

One of the parody accounts (Nunes’ Mom) was suspended by Twitter before the lawsuit was filed. At least one is still active and as a result of this lawsuit gained over 46,000 subscribers in less than one day. (Before cheering it, don’t forget that Alex Jones has only become more popular since he was banned as well) Twitter allows parody accounts as long as the account is clear that it is not affiliated with the figure in any way. Nunes’ Mom’s profile did not do that and thus was suspended.


Twitter of course claims that they do not shadowban, or allow someone to post something but restrict that post so no one sees it. When it was brought up during Congressional testimony a bug was blamed for it and the issue has claimed to be debunked however the issue rears its ugly head from time to time.

Nunes also alleges if a company like Twitter, which has become a de facto public square, can do such a thing as well as enforce their rules selectively they have the power to swing an election. Twitter is a private company but has opened their doors to the public the same way a private park can be opened to the public. Conservatives are justifiably concerned as Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco, one of the most liberal places in the country. If a judgment call has to be made to ban a post or a user they feel they will never get the benefit of the doubt.

Since every politician and business seemingly needs to have a presence on Twitter they are able to wield a tremendous amount of power. Nunes alleges that they have not wielded it responsibly.

Is Nunes Fair Game?

Nunes is a public figure and thus opens himself up to scrutiny. Parodying politicians is not even an American invention and was perfected in Great Britain in the 1800s. Nunes certainly knew that when he chose to become a member of Congress he would face this kind of scrutiny. Democrat lawmakers have faced much of the same from the conservative side of the aisle when it comes to parody as well. With Nunes being a key figure, as the former head of the House Intelligence Committee and current ranking member, in the Russia Collusion investigation as well as the Hillary Clinton email investigation it is no surprise that something like this would come up and he would be a prime target.

Does Twitter shadowban conservatives? That arose from an alleged bug that affected the profiles of several Republican lawmakers by preventing a user from searching for them. While Twitter has denied that this was anything other than a bug things like these do continuously happen to conservative voices seemingly much more often than liberal ones and on more than just Twitter. This is one of the questions that Nunes seeks to answer with this lawsuit and a lawsuit may be the only way to do it.

Can Nunes Win?

With Nunes being a public figure he is open to criticism and thus fair game for parody and probably will not win. Certainly though some of what has been posted about him comes close to the line though and if it violated the terms of service and was not removed he may have a path to victory. What this may actually come down to is the status of Twitter (and by extension other social media platforms). Are they a publisher or a platform? As a platform they have certain protections from lawsuits regarding the content that is put on the platform by its user base. A publisher does not have the same protections as they have a hand in manipulating and controlling the content.

In this case one parody account claimed to be Nunes’ mom was suspended. Another claimed to be his cow (his family farmed and owns a dairy farm in Iowa) and no one would think that Nunes was associated with that account in any way. Another claimed to be a GOP communications strategist. The targeting of these accounts in the lawsuit has been claimed by some to be a publicity stunt.

Perhaps More Far Reaching Than Just Nunes

If Twitter is an open platform that does not censor individuals on anything other than the community guidelines with even handed treatment they have nothing to worry about. If they do manipulate the algorithms so one side gets preferential treatment over the other or look the other way when their side of the aisle does something and punish the other when they do it they become a publisher. Would Nunes have been suspended had he created the same image of Hassan Rouhani, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

This may be just a simple lawsuit intended to protect a Congressman and his family from undue harm. Despite what we feel about them they are people too and they have feelings and families as well as protections under the law. Nunes may be doing this just to bring attention to the issue or to force change in the only avenue open to him without legislating it, which would be difficult with a Democrat-controlled House. It could be a publicity stunt. Or he may be attempting to change the landscape of social media as we all know it and that could have far reaching consequences not only for Twitter but for everyone that uses social media.

Many conservatives will also point to CNN going after a private individual who created a GIF image of Trump body slamming someone with the CNN logo superimposed overtop of their face. They claim that there was so much outrage with that but those outraged have no problem with this. Would Twitter have allowed this if Adam Schiff was the subject and not Nunes? It may be years before we find out and perhaps we should all just take a step back, get away from the computer and relax.  

We’ll see what happens. We are not lawyers, and we don’t even claim to play one on TV.

Of course the big headline is that Nunes is suing his mom, which most certainly will trend on Twitter. Poetic justice perhaps but fitting.

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