politics

Devin Nunes' Twitter Lawsuits Highlights 'Streisand Effect' in Social Media Age

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There's a phenomenon on the internet called the "Streisand Effect," whereby a person's attempt to suppress information ends up widely publicizing that very same information. It was named after a 2003 incident when Barbra Streisand tried to keep images of her Malibu mansion off the web and inadvertently drew massive amounts of attention to it. And it's why Devin Nunes' mom was trending on Twitter Tuesday morning.
Nunes, the Republican congressman from California, said he was filing a lawsuit against Twitter and three specific Twitter users, seeking $250 million in damages. Nunes argues that the users defamed him and that Twitter “knowingly acted as a vessel for opposition research" and allowed defamatory statements against prominent conservatives to spread.
Two of the users named in the suit, which has not been yet been filed but was obtained by some news outlets, go by the usernames "Devin Nunes' Mom" and "Devin Nunes Cow." The former account was suspended, while the latter has spent the last two years calling Nunes names like "udder-ly worthless" and a "treasonous cowpoke."
The cow had about 1,200 followers before the lawsuit made headlines. It now counts 89,000 followers as of midday Tuesday.
Speaking to Fox News Monday night, Nunes called those accounts part of an "orchestrated effort" to target him for his allegiance to President Trump and his investigation, as the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, into Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. He called the suit "the first of many."
The lawsuit seeks to tie those obvious parody accounts to a larger issue that has become a grievance among some conservatives on Twitter, in which they claim that the social network actively censors their tweets through "shadow banning" their accounts to make them harder to find. Twitter has denied those allegations.
As a public official, Nunes' lawsuit would have to show "actual malice," the standard set by the landmark Supreme Court case NY Times v. Sullivan to prove libel against public figures. Hyperbole and satire are generally protected as free speech, and similar lawsuits have failed in the courts. The Sullivan decision recently generated headlines when conservative Justice Clarence Thomas publicly called for it to be reconsidered.
While Nunes' lawsuit may seem doomed legally, it did have the effect, unintended or not, of gaining him publicity, which has in the past burnished conservatives' reputations in the eyes of their boss.
Two years ago, Nunes seemed to have a different perspective on litigation: he was a co-sponsor of the "Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act."
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