Nunes Lawsuit Against Twitter is a Nonstarter, Defamation Lawyer Says

Photo Credit: J Scott Applewhite/AP/Shutterstock
March 19, 2019
Updated 1mo ago

By Spencer Feingold

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes filed a major lawsuit against Twitter and three of its users for defamation on Monday, seeking a staggering $250 million in damages.

The suit was in response to alleged defamation by the Twitter users and accused the tech giant of so-called “shadow banning,” the purported practice of blocking content for political reasons. Conservatives have long claimed to be victims of "shadow banning" and social media platforms have repeatedly denied the accusations.

Legal experts, however, say the California congressman will have an uphill battle in proving criminal or malevolent intent.

“I think it will get thrown out pretty quickly,” Aaron Minc, the founder of the defamation firm Minc Law, told Cheddar on Tuesday. “There is a pretty high bar when it comes to First Amendment speech and being critical of politicians.”

The defendants include two Twitter uses with account handles @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, as well as, Liz Mair, a political and communications consultant. All three repeatedly criticized and mocked Nunes on Twitter.

The complaint, which was filed in a Virginia district court, claimed that Nunes “suffered substantial insult, humiliation, embarrassment, pain, mental suffering and damage to his reputation as a result of the unprecedented personal and professional attacks on his character.”

It also argues that Twitter was “knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory.”

Nonetheless, “it is not a strong case,” Minc said.

The First Amendment strongly protects free speech, especially speech that is critical of politicians or other public figures. “It is hard to sue people and succeed. There is a very high bar in those types of lawsuits,” Minc said.

Minc even speculated that the lawsuit was more of a publicity stunt ー especially given the enormous monetary claim. “I don’t take it as a very serious case," he said. "It is kind of a joke from a lot of different perspectives."

The case was dismissed by other politicians as well.

“Grow up. Everyone in the public eye gets mean tweets,” former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said in a tweet.

Minc did say, however, that there would be a legal case against Twitter for shadow banning, if it turned out to be true and could be proven.

“Platforms can be sued for restricting access to content and removing content if they do it in bad faith,” Minc explained, adding that there is no evidence that Twitter actually was blocking tweets from Nunes and other conservatives.

Still, right wing politicians and commentators have repeatedly pushed the notion that their voices were being deliberately silenced on social media. President Trump also promoted the theory in 2018, tweeting: "Twitter 'SHADOW BANNING' prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints."

Despite the president's claim, no case of malign blocking of conservatives has been uncovered. In a statement last year, Twitter unequivocally denied the practice, saying it does not "shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”

Overall, Nunes, who is a longtime Trump loyalist, “is going to have a tough time prosecuting the case as it currently stands,” Minc said.

For full interview click here.