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Devin Nunes Can’t Sue Twitter Over Statements by Fake Cow, Judge Rules

June 25, 2020by Kate Irby, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
Devin Nunes (R-CA) questions Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union during the open hearing of the House Intelligence Committe into the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, in Washington, D.C., on November 20, 2019. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — A judge has ruled that Rep. Devin Nunes has no right to sue Twitter over statements made by a fake Internet cow, someone parodying his mother and a Republican strategist.

Judge John Marshall said in a decision Friday that Twitter was “immune from the defamation claims of” Nunes, R-Calif., due to federal law that says social media companies are not liable for what people post on their platforms.

Nunes “seeks to have the court treat Twitter as the publisher or speaker of the content provided by others based on its allowing or not allowing certain content to be on its internet platform,” Marshall wrote. “The court refuses to do so.”

Nunes sued Twitter, the two parody accounts known as Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom and strategist Liz Mair in March 2019. He alleged the latter three had defamed him online, ruining his reputation and causing him to win his 2018 election by a narrower margin than normal. He accused Twitter of being negligent for allowing the alleged defamation.

Twitter’s lawyers, in their motion to dismiss the suit, argued that Twitter was immune from the lawsuit due to federal law. The law, known as Section 230, says that social media companies such as Twitter are not liable for what third parties post on their platform. The only exception is if Twitter personally helped develop or create the content. Both Twitter and Nunes agreed the company did not do that in this case.

Nunes’ lawyer, Steven Biss, 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.

Judge Marshall disagreed with Nunes and Biss’ arguments, saying previous court cases had already settled that Section 230 applies even if the company does show bias in what content it allows people to post.

Marshall’s ruling does not mean this case has been dismissed. Rather, Marshall is removing Twitter as a defendant on the case, leaving the case pending against the two parody Twitter accounts and Mair. But it’s a blow to Nunes nonetheless, as he was trying to push Twitter into revealing the identities of the two accounts, who have been mocking him online anonymously.

Twitter’s lawyer, Patrick Carome, made it clear in a hearing earlier this month that they have no intention of sharing identifying information the company has on the accounts. Twitter has declined to comply with Nunes’ requests for information so far.

Twitter praised Marshall’s decision in a statement to McClatchy, with a spokesperson saying it “strongly believes the court made the right decision today.”

“Twitter enforces the Twitter Rules impartially for everyone who uses our service around the world, regardless of their background or political affiliation,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “We are constantly improving our efforts to serve the public conversation and will continue to be transparent with the public.”

Mair, the only one remaining in the lawsuit who has been identified, told McClatchy in a statement Wednesday that Nunes’ lawsuits against her remain “an assault on the First Amendment and the core American principle of free speech.”

“Representative Nunes took an oath to support and defend the Constitution — all of it and not just the bits he likes — and I hope he will take the opportunity to reflect on that fact again today and proceed accordingly,” she said.

The author behind Devin Nunes’ Cow declined to comment. The author behind Devin Nunes’ Mom and Nunes’ lawyer, Biss, did not return requests for comment.

Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter and others is one of six active lawsuits Nunes has filed. In each one, he alleges people have defamed him, conspired to harm his reputation or both.

He is suing four news organizations: CNN; The Washington Post; Hearst, the owner of Esquire Magazine; and McClatchy, the owner of the largest newspaper in Nunes’ district, The Fresno Bee.

He is also suing Fusion GPS, the political opposition research firm responsible for the so-called Steele dossier on President Donald Trump.

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©2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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