While Nunes can’t sue Twitter, he may still be able to sue the Cow–if only he can identify the person behind the account.
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) cannot sue Twitter over comments made by digital satirists posing as a fake cow and Nunes’s own mother.
The Fresno Bee reports that Judge John Marshall ruled that Twitter is “immune from the defamation claims” of Nunes due to a federal law which prevents social medial companies from being held legally responsible for the individual actions of their users.
Nunes, wrote Marshall, “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.”
“The court refuses to do so,” Marshall stated.
According to the Bee, Nunes launched his lawsuit against Twitter in March 2019. He claimed that three accounts—including the satirical handles called ‘Devin Nunes’ Cow’ (@DevinCow) and ‘Devin Nunes’ Mom’ (@NunesAlt)—defamed him online. Also named as a defendant is real-life Republican strategist Liz Mair.
So effective was the defamation, Nunes claimed the accounts had not only ruined his reputation but caused him to win his 2018 re-election bid by a narrower-than-usual margin. Nunes’s attorneys also claimed that Twitter subtly favors politically liberal content over conservative content, allegedly pushing and promoting tweets to Nunes’s political detriment.
If Twitter did, in fact, favor the Cow and the Mother’s tweets, then the platform could—conceivably—have lost its litigatory immunity.
However, Marshall unambiguously discarded Nunes and his attorney’s argument, noting that legal precedent has held that social media companies cannot be sued for the actions of their users even when the company shows some bias in what content it allows people to post.
But as the Sacramento Bee notes, Marshall did not dismiss the lawsuit outright—he simply removed Twitter as a defendant.
Nunes, though, might not get far against the Cow or the Mom—despite his attorneys’ attempts to pressure Twitter into revealing the users’ identities, the social media company has flatly refused to cooperate.
Twitter, for its part, praised Marshall’s decision, saying the judge correctly interpreted extant law.
“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 in a statement. “We are constantly improving our efforts to serve the public conversation and will continue to be transparent with the public.”
Mair—whose Twitter handle corresponds with her real name—told journalism publisher McClatchy that Nunes’s lawsuit is an affront to the U.S. Constitution, calling it “an assault on the First Amendment and the core American principle of free speech.”
“Rep. 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,” Mair said.
CNN reports that, after learning of Marshall’s judgment, Nunes posted a link to Parler, an “alternative” social media website.
“Parler is open for business!” Nunes tweeted.
But the Cow was quick to reply.
“I have some good moooos for you,” it wrote. “Oh wait, it’s good for me and not for you.”