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Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

‘Devin Nunes cow’ Twitter account gains 150,000 followers as US Republican’s lawsuit backfires

  • Parody account, which purports to be owned by unhappy cow on Nunes’ farm, called him ‘treasonous cowpoke’ and ‘udder-ly worthless’
  • Lawmaker sued for US$250,000 in damages, complaining he was defamed in hundreds of tweets by various users

A parody Twitter account purporting to be owned by an unhappy cow living on one of US lawmaker Devin Nunes’ Iowa farms attacked the California Republican as a “treasonous cowpoke” and “udder-ly worthless” during the 2018 campaign.

Now Nunes wants US$250 million in damages from Twitter for failing to police the accounts @DevinCow as well as another parody, @DevinNunesMom, and a political activist named Liz Mair.

The Devin Nunes' cow account had 160,000 followers by Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Twitter

In a lawsuit filed in Virginia on Tuesday, Nunes complained that all three defamed him in hundreds of tweets over several months last year. It also seeks US$350,000 in punitive damages.

Nunes, a close ally of US President Donald 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 re-election 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 humour to accuse him of criminal behaviour, 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’Rourke. Parody accounts of 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 the trolls into silence, the move may have backfired.

The @DevinCow account has jumped from just over 1,000 followers to about 160,000 followers since the suit was filed.

Mair said on Twitter she will not comment publicly on the complaint.

As part of the suit, Nunes wants Twitter to disclose the real names of the people who created the parody accounts. The suit also accuses Twitter of bias against conservatives.

Nunes has clashed with his media critics before. Last year, he sent out a glossy, 40-page mailer shortly before the 2018 election attacking the Fresno Bee after its editorial board criticised him repeatedly.

Twitter has indicated in the past that parody accounts do not violate its rules as long as the profile or username states that the account does not belong to the person it is satirising. The company has denied a political bias but has not commented specifically on Nunes’ suit.

Nunes, who last year co-sponsored legislation titled the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act, has a hard road ahead to winning the suit.

Courts have generally ruled that satirical works are opinion, not a representation of fact, and are therefore not subject to libel and defamation laws.

First Amendment experts say the Communications Decency Act protects large social media companies like Twitter from being held liable for what users publish on their platforms. And since Nunes is a public official, he faces a higher burden to prove libel or defamation.

The lawsuit was given to conservative media outlets first, and Nunes told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night that Tuesday’s suit is the first of many he plans to file.

“We have to hold all of these people accountable, because if we don’t, our First Amendment rights are at stake here,” Nunes said. “How is it possible that I can be attacked relentlessly, hundreds of times a day by fake accounts that [Twitter] claim in their terms of service should not be there?”