How insulting is it to be mocked online by a fake cow? That really was an issue in front of ranking Republican congressman Devin Nunes of California when he brought a lawsuit against the social media giant Twitter.
In the case, the congressman decided to sue Twitter for a series of insulting comments posted to the platform by a fake internet cow. Yes, an insulting cow.
What makes Nunes’ lawsuit even more bizarre is that he was pursuing the case against the insulting cow even though he won his election in 2018.
His case initially included four different defendants. The insulting cow, known as Devin Nunes’ Cow, a similarly themed Devin Nunes’ Mom, a Republican strategist known as Liz Mair, and Twitter. However, the judge overseeing the case threw out Twitter as a defendant because it was not, as Nunes alleged, liable for promoting the tweets. It would have had to have been involved in their creation to be liable.
In his claim, he was seeking more than $200 million in damages and the name of the individual behind the insulting accounts. Emphasizing defamation, the lawsuit says that the attacks caused him to win his 2018 election by a smaller than anticipated margin.
Yes, he won, but not by enough and he wanted the four defendants to pay the sum demanded for his win.
In terms of his case against Twitter, the presiding judge (John Marshall of Virginia) dismissed the social media giant, as they were immune from a defamation claim because they are not liable for third-party posts. Ms. Mair said that the Nunes lawsuit was also an “assault on the First Amendment and the core American principle of free speech,” adding that as a Congressman he had sworn to defend the entire Constitution and not just the parts that suited his needs.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the story and noted that the attorney for Nunes had argued that “Twitter’s actions in allegedly favoring more liberal content over conservative content and allegedly promoting tweets that made fun of Nunes meant that Section 230 protections should not apply.”
Section 230 is a law that says any social media company cannot be liable for third-party posts, and as already noted, the exception would be if they helped to create it. Nunes, however, agrees that Twitter did not help with the creation of the content, essentially negating his own claim.
Further, the judge in the case insisted that Section 230 still applies whether or not bias is shown by the social media firm.
The outcome, thus far, is that Twitter was removed from the list of defendants named in the case. That means that the two parody accounts, as well as Ms. Mair, are still being sued by Nunes. It also means that Nunes will remain in the dark as to the names of the owners of the parody accounts.
Furthermore, the legal team for Twitter made it clear that they would never share identifying details on any of the accounts involved in the case. At every turn, the company has refused Nunes’ requests for such details.
They also reiterated their fairness policies, with their spokesperson releasing a statement that seemed a final thumb of the nose to Nunes’ claims: “Twitter enforces the Twitter Rules impartially for everyone who uses our service around the world, regardless of their background or political affiliation.”
To date, Nunes has five other active lawsuits. Each of them is focused on defamation and conspiracy to hurt his reputation. Among those he is pursuing in the courts are news organizations like The Washington Post and cable news giant CNN. He is also suing Fusion GPS, a political opposition research company.
All we can say is that, perhaps, the congressman needs to be reminded that free speech is one of the things he works to protect, whether that speech is one of the things he works to protect, whether that speech is favorable to him or not.