A Virginia judge nixed Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter over parody posts from a fake cow account, someone pretending to be his mother and a Republican strategist who has criticized the congressman.
The judge ruled that federal law prevents social media platforms from being held liable for posts made by third-party users.
The lawsuit sought “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 platform,” wrote Judge John Marshall in his decision, according to the Fresno Bee, Nune’s hometown newspaper. “The court refuses to do so.”
Twitter has been removed from the suit, but the case against the two parody accounts and strategist Liz Mair will continue, according to the Bee, which reported that it is also the target of a lawsuit from Nunes.
The complaint alleged that the timing and substance of the tweets suggested that Mair was working jointly with parody accounts.
The California congressman filed the $250 million lawsuit last year in Virginia state court, alleging defamation, conspiracy and negligence while seeking damages and accusing the social media site of “shadow-banning conservatives” to secretly hide and censor their posts.
He also sought also an injunction compelling Twitter to turn over the identities behind the accounts he said harassed and defamed him. Twitter has declined to do so, although the @DevinNunesMom account was suspended after Nunes’ real mother complained to the company last year. The account @DevinCow is still active and retweeted a post about the lawsuit as recently as Thursday morning.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has testified previously before Congress that his platform is a kind of “digital public square,” although he has insisted that Twitter, as a private company, retains the right to censor speech.
Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act has drawn criticism from lawmakers for years. It says social media companies cannot be considered “the publisher or speaker” responsible for third-party content posted to their platforms.
“It’s the reason why websites can offer platforms for critical and controversial speech without constantly worrying about getting sued,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
President Trump issued an executive order last month aimed at curtailing some of those protections given to social media companies, and even Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has criticized the law. In January, he told the New York Times that the section protecting social media outlets should “be revoked.”
Section 230 does not protect users from being held responsible for their own posts.
Nunes and a number of other prominent conservatives have recently tweeted in favor of Parler, a Twitter alternative that describes itself as “an unbiased social media focused on real user experiences and engagement.”
Fox New’s Gregg Re and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.