Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) wants Twitter to pay him $250 million in compensatory damages for failing to protect him from online harassment.
Nunes filed a complaint in Virginia state court on Monday claiming the social media giant “shadow bans” conservatives, censors certain viewpoints and knowingly monetizes “abusive” content.
According to the complaint, Nunes “endured an orchestrated defamation campaign of stunning breadth and scope, one that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life.”
The complaint also targeted several Twitter users who had harassed Nunes on the platform, including one who claimed the congressman “does cocaine” and “colluded with prostitutes.” Also listed in the complaint is a user by the name of @DevinNunesMom who used the platform to attack Nunes.
Nunes’ legal team alleged Twitter “shadow-banned” Nunes in 2018 “in order to restrict his free speech” and sway the midterm elections.
“The shadow-banning was intentional,” the complaint claimed. “It was calculated to interfere with and influence the federal election and interfere with Nunes’ ongoing investigation as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Twitter’s actions affected the election results. The combination of the shadow-ban and Twitter’s refusal to enforce its Terms and Rules in the face of clear and present abuse and hateful conduct caused Nunes to lose support amongst voters.”
Twitter declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“Shadow banning” is the practice of limiting a user’s reach by making their posts visible only to themselves. It’s a common conspiracy theory among conservatives that social media companies like Twitter regularly shadow ban right-wing voices.
The theory gained momentum last summer when it appeared that some accounts, including those of certain Republican politicians and white supremacists, weren’t being automatically suggested when people searched their names. (All the affected accounts still showed up in search results.)
Though this wouldn’t have actually constituted shadow banning, and it affected both Republican and Democratic accounts, many conservatives saw this as proof that Twitter discriminated against them.
Twitter resolved the search issue and later published a blog in the hope of “setting the record straight on shadow banning.”
“We do not shadow ban,” the company said. “You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
Nunes’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.