New York, NY – A new lawsuit filed by Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, suing Twitter and three platform users for defamation and seeking over $250 million in damages is an unwarranted attempt to silence criticism and restrict free speech online, PEN America said in a statement today.

On March 19, 2019, Representative Nunes filed a lawsuit in Virginia state court alleging that Twitter has allowed attacks by various platform users that amount to a coordinated defamation campaign against him. As the complaint alleges, the campaign has been orchestrated by multiple Twitter users to attack Nunes in ways that, according to Nunes, “no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life.” These allegations specifically cite a variety of tweets that include accusations of criminal misconduct as well as crude jokes and broad, banal criticism of Nunes. Alleging this campaign was brought by three users in particular, including a Republican strategist’s personal account and two parody Twitter accounts, Nunes claims that Twitter has caused him extreme pain and suffering by failing to limit these attacks against him and in fact has allowed the campaign to continue as part of its own political agenda to “shadow ban” conservative voices. One of the parody accounts had a mere 1,200 followers before Nunes filed his lawsuit; in the two days since Nunes filed his lawsuit, @DevinCow has grown to over 570,000 followers.

“At first blush, this defamation case is a ridiculous attempt to use the court system to hold social media platforms accountable for what is ultimately constitutionally-protected satirical speech,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “Satire should not prompt these kinds of incendiary and inappropriate legal actions by our elected officials, which ultimately detract from more serious questions around how social media platforms should handle distribution of truly gruesome or violent content.”

For more information about PEN America’s work on digital governance of free speech and the ways that social media platforms may guard against the spread of true fraudulent news, please see our recent report “Truth on the Ballot.”

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org