GOP congressman sues Twitter for shadow-bans, discrimination against conservatives
March 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes is taking Twitter to court for the social media giant’s alleged discrimination against himself and other prominent conservatives through shadow-banning and other means.
Last summer, Nunes was one of several Republican lawmakers and GOP leaders whose Twitter accounts had disappeared from the drop-down menu that normally populates when typing in a name, without comparable figures such as Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez or any of the 78-member Progressive Caucus being affected. Twitter soon corrected the problem and denied it engaged in shadow-banning (the practice of restricting a user’s visibility without notifying him or her).
The company claimed it simply “rank[s] tweets and search results” to ensure content is “immediately relevant” based on a number of factors, including whether a user “intend[s] to manipulate or divide the conversation.” Such tweets are determined based on whether an account appears to be a real person (as determined via email addresses, profile pictures, etc.), whom it follows and retweets, and how other accounts mute, follow, block, or retweet it.
On Monday, Nunes filed a complaint in Virginia state court accusing Twitter of attempting to undermine his work as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Fox News reports.
“Twitter is a machine," Nunes' attorney, Steven Biss told Fox. "It is a modern-day Tammany Hall. Congressman Nunes intends to hold Twitter fully accountable for its abusive behavior and misconduct.”
The congressman is seeking $250 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages for shadow-banning “calculated to interfere with and influence the federal election and interfere with Nunes’ ongoing investigation as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,” as well as "knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory – providing both a voice and financial incentive to the defamers – thereby facilitating defamation on its platform."
The suit also seeks an order compelling Twitter to produce the identities of various users he claims harassed and defamed him, arguing that "Twitter created and developed the content at issue in this case by transforming false accusations of criminal conduct, imputed wrongdoing, dishonesty and lack of integrity into a publicly available commodity used by unscrupulous political operatives and their donor/clients as a weapon.”
One example of the Twitter users named in the suit is pro-abortion, pro-LGBT Republican operative Liz Mair, whom Nunes’ legal team accuses of spreading false allegations that Nunes was involved with prostitutes, cocaine, and a “Russian money laundering front.”
“A presence on Twitter is essential for an individual to run for office or engage in any level of political organizing in modern America,” the complaint adds. “That is because Twitter is not merely a website: it is the modern town square. Twitter is equivalent to the private owner of a public forum who has fully opened its property to the general public for purposes of permitting the public’s free expression and debate. That is, in fact, what Twitter has always claimed to be."
At Power Line, conservative commentator Scott Johnson expressed hope that Nunes “can prevail and/or get to a jury on one or more of these claims, but they strike me as a stretch.” He agreed that “Nunes appears to have suffered outrageous wrongs,” but it remains to be seen “whether Twitter is protected from liability for defamation under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act” (a law various conservatives have advocated overhauling). He also noted that the wrongs “may not have a remedy.”
Regardless, Nunes’ grievances are the latest in a long series of bans and suspensions (including of LifeSiteNews) to affect non-violent, non-obscene content from right-of-center perspectives. Twitter insiders have previously admitted to intentionally targeting conservative accounts and topics.
Last month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hailed the company’s crackdown on “misgendering” or “deadnaming” (addressing someone by his original legal name that matches his biology) users as an example of “protecting” users. Canadian feminist writer Meghan Murphy is also suing Twitter for banning her after she tweeted that “women aren’t men.”