Suing Fictional Cows And Other Twitter Embarrassments

Ken AshfordCongress, Social Media & Networking, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This is funny, but also disturbing in the sense that some are actually taking it seriously.

Yesterday, Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) sued a fictional cow for $250 million.

In addition to the anonymous Twitter account “Devin Nunes’ Cow,” Nunes is suingthe “Devin Nunes’ Mom” Twitter account, a political operative named Liz Mair, and Twitter itself.

Nunes, a close ally of President Trump, says in his complaint that he endured what “no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life.” He said it caused him to win reelection last November by a narrower margin than in the past and distracted him from running the House investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Among other things, Nunes, from Tulare, cited a variety of tweets that used crude humor to accuse him of criminal behavior, including soliciting prostitutes.

Most politicians and celebrities today face similar parody accounts. Many just ignore them, though a few play along. A Twitter account called @Betosblog lampoons Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rouke. Parody accounts of President Trump have hundreds of thousands of followers.

The @DevinNunesMom account was suspended by Twitter after his actual mother, Toni Dian Nunes, complained.

But if Nunes hoped his lawsuit would intimidate his trollers into silence, the move may have backfired.

The @DevinCow account has jumped from just over 1,000 followers to more than 354,000 right now, and still rising (the real Devin Nunes’ personal account has 394,000 followers). Spoof accounts proliferated: Devin Nunes Mom’s CowDevin Nunes’s Cow PsychiatristDevin Nunes’s MulletDevin Nunes is a Whiny Baby.


Actually, it is 415,000 now.


Why did these tweets wound Nunes so deeply? The accounts’ jibes resemble much of the political commentary on Twitter—including the president’s. Nunes’s real grievance appears to be with Twitter itself. “Twitter represents that it enforces its Terms and Rules equally and that it does not discriminate against conservatives who wish to use its ‘public square,’” he told the court. “This is not true. This is a lie. Twitter actively censors and shadow-bans conservatives, such as Plaintiff, thereby eliminating his voice while amplifying the voices of his Democratic detractors.”

Twitter has denied that it uses shadow banning—making a user’s posts visible to themselves but invisible to others—but that hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers, including Trump, from making the claim as part of a broader narrative that Silicon Valley is censoring conservative voices.

Nunes’s claim for damages also doesn’t hold up. He says that Twitter bears legal responsibility for any defamatory posts made on its platform. In reality, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally shields websites from civil liability related to third-party content on their platforms. Nunes himself should be pretty familiar with this: As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out, he and his colleagues have been working to change Section 230 for this exact reason.

Nunes adopts a patriotic mien when it comes to the broader free speech issues at stake. “Access to Twitter is essential for meaningful participation in modern-day American Democracy,” he told the court. “A candidate without Twitter is a losing candidate. The ability to use Twitter is a vital part of modern citizenship. A presence on Twitter is essential for an individual to run for office or engage in any level of political organizing in modern America. This is because Twitter is not merely a website: it is the modern town square.”

This paean to civic speech might be more convincing if Nunes didn’t ask the court to force Twitter to “reveal the names and contact information” behind four of the pseudonymous accounts. What’s more, he also wants the court to “permanently enjoin and order Twitter” to suspend Mair and the other accounts. Twitter is a vital part of modern American citizenship, Nunes says, and he wants the government to strip people of access to it for being mean to him.

Speaking of twitter, Trump continues unabated with tweets goaded by his critics (George Conway, the media) and by what he sees on Fox News and his Twitter feed (TSA patdown of a kid).

It is embarrassing.

For what it is worth, Trump’s statement that George Conway “didn’t get the job he wanted” is a proven lie, and Conway leaked the letter saying he TURNED DOWN the job.