Objectively, it’s difficult to deny that Republican Congressman Devin Nunes’ suit against Twitter and against a number of Twitter users, including Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom, is hilarious. Citing tweets that criticize Nunes for everything from his relationship with Trump to his faux farmer image, most of what’s in the legal filing seems purposely designed to increase disdain for the California congressman and emphasize just how ridiculous many of his positions have been. But the suit was written with a serious purpose—and that purpose has little to do with making money from an imaginary bovine.
The language in Nunes’ suit, which is filled with insinuations that his critics are funded by the DNC, or Fusion GPS, or “prominent Democrat funders,” isn’t written with a judge as an audience. It was clearly created more as a publicity effort for Nunes, generating more air time on Fox and more funds in his bank account. On that second point at least, Nunes could be surprisingly successful. Even as he was leaping from cars and getting hauled in front of the Ethics Committee, Nunes was rewarded with one of the highest campaign bankrolls in the House for his over-the-top, damn-the-facts devotion to Donald Trump.
But as the Washington Post makes clear, Nunes’ action is also about silencing critics. And not just critics of Devin Nunes. The “shadow banning” claims against Twitter aren’t just unproven—they’re easily proven wrong. Still, a social media company having to defend itself from paying out a quarter-billion dollars might be extra-shy about taking any action. If conservatives want to make sure that social media companies take a completely hands-off attitude in addressing language that might be considered violent or racist … this isn’t a bad step. Twitter might not be so quick to haul off the next Alex Jones, or might allow the original to return.
The attacks on individual users are also extremely unlikely to be successful, but, as in many cases, simply forcing individuals to engage with the legal system could prove draining both financially and emotionally. The threat of being pulled into court is enough that it chills future conduct—no matter how many animals, relatives, and body parts of Devin Nunes are currently operating Twitter accounts.
And there’s another aspect of Nunes’ lawsuit that might be called ironic, but is better called simply racist.
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